Burnaby City Government and “Demovictions” Protesters Clash Over Metrotown Plan

The municipal government views the plan as progress while protesters see it as vulnerable people being evicted
Ashley Hyshka, Community Reporter

As per the controversial Metrotown Plan, Metropolis is going to be redesigned from a mega mall into a pedestrian-friendly street front with retailers and shops. (Ashley Hyshka)

Burnaby City Council unanimously approved the controversial “Metrotown Development Plan” on July 24, 2017, which calls for 3,000 units of affordable low-rise apartment buildings to be demolished and replaced with high-rise condominiums.

The plan would evict 6,000 residents from their homes, but would also see the redevelopment of Metropolis at Metrotown from a massive shopping complex into a pedestrian-friendly street front with stores and retailers.

Despite public resistance, Burnaby City Councillor Colleen Jordan views the plan as progress.

She calls it “a vision for increasing the density of Metrotown, for providing more jobs … office space, and commercial space than is allowed presently.”

Jordan says that the Metrotown plan is designed to accommodate a 40-year growth projection for the City of Burnaby, during which an estimated 125,000 residents will move into the area over the next four decades.

“These are the kind of long-term plans that it’s our duty as a city to work towards,” she says.

Jordan calls the plan a “more modern way of doing things … Live upstairs, go down the elevator, do their shopping, go to their Starbucks. Then if they want to go downtown, they just hop on the SkyTrain, which is half a block away.”

With the redevelopment plan approved, Metrotown is slated to become Burnaby’s official downtown core. The target is for Burnaby to add 2,000 or more new units of housing every year over the next 40 years.

Protesters, however, have not remained silent regarding the Metrotown plan. Jordan says she’s met with “loud and vocal” protestors who are pushing back against the project.

“We listen, but we also listen to the people that maybe don’t have quite as loud a voice, or have quite the profile that they do, who see that this is an opportunity,” says Jordan. “I live here, I talk to people who live in that area … They’re not happy that their building may someday be gone, but a lot of them understand that’s progress.”

“People are choosing to come and live here, and we have to find a place for them to live,” she adds.

Rick McGowan of the Metrotown Resident’s Association is one citizen who’s been fighting back against the plan.

“I thought there was a need for a voice for the residents of Metrotown,” he says.

The Metrotown Resident’s Association, in collaboration with ACORN BC and Alliance Against Displacement, has been working to have this issue of “demovictions” brought to the attention of the media and the local government.

McGowan’s motivations are simple. “I don’t want to see my neighbors displaced from my community,” he says.

A primary goal for the campaign is to find affordable housing for people who have been displaced. McGowan says that, in some cases, people have no choice but to leave Metrotown or Burnaby as a whole because they cannot find affordable housing.

“We want to make sure that Burnaby has an affordable housing plan before they start having a development plan,” he says.

McGowan recognizes that Metrotown is prime real estate, particularly near the SkyTrain, but asserts that people who live in the area are dependant on the affordable shopping and transit routes, which they are losing due to evictions.

He says that “the government’s making decisions that are not in the best interest of renters,” and that the 40-year population projections the plan is based on are over-inflated.

The Alliance Against Displacement has called upon the provincial government to intervene and authorize a moratorium on the demolitions until an affordable housing strategy can be put in place. McGowan says that this might be the group’s last hope.

According to him, the recent stand-in protest at City Hall on July 24 was “an act of desperation.”

“City Council is not listening to these voices that are speaking out for renters … They’re just moving forward,” he says. “They have the power, and they’re not responding to the concerns of the powerless.”

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