Group rallies against gentrification in Burnaby

Noel Ouellette looked up at the sleek steel and glass condo tower rising above Nelson Avenue and shouted,

"What do we want? Affordable housing! When do we want it? Now!"

Ouellette and about a dozen other members of the anti-poverty advocacy group ACORN rallied across from The Met condo project Tuesday to voice their displeasure with gentrification in Burnaby that is replacing affordable old walk-up rental apartment buildings with pricey new concrete condos. Even a tradesman from the project put down his tools for a few minutes and jogged across the street to commiserate with the protestors; he's about to lose his own home to a new development.

Monica McGovern, the chair of ACORN's Burnaby branch, said her little gathering is the flip side of the lineups of eager investors and homeowners who stand around the block to snap up units in the new developments.

"What's happening with all these high towers they're building, in some cases they're tearing down affordable rental housing," said McGovern. "They're building huge high-rises and the prices of them will be way beyond the means of most people."

Prices for The Met's 295 units range from $279,900 to $700,000. The image to market the building to passersby on Nelson shows a marble lobby with a white grand piano flanking a concierge desk.

The building is just one of a number of projects being built or planned for the Metrotown area, including new towers along Beresford and a major redevelopment of the old Station Square shopping centre that will eventually comprise five new condo towers soaring as high as 57 storeys.

Two doors south of The Met, excavation work has begun on The Park, another condo tower. Sandwiched in between is a squat three-storey wood frame walk-up apartment building with a vacancy sign posted on the front lawn.

McGovern said when some of her members are forced out of their homes to make way for new development, they have to leave Burnaby.

"It's not just the housing they're losing," said McGovern. "They're losing their communities."

McGovern said the redevelopment of established affordable neighbourhoods has accelerated in recent years as builders take advantage of programs to increase density in exchange for financing community enhancements like new parks or seniors centres.

And as new towers sprout from the midst of the wood frame rental buildings, landlords are neglecting to invest money to maintain their units, hoping to cash in when developers come knocking on their door to acquire property for their next project.

"it makes it easy for landlords to just let things go," said McGovern. "It's not fair."

She said all levels of government need to work together to come up with solutions that will allow low and moderate income people to stay in their homes, in their communities.

"There has to be other housing built for low income people," she said.


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