Burnaby’s Housing Task Farce: A developer-heavy housing task force won’t stop Metrotown demovictions
In his neighbourhood of Metrotown, Alaidjah sees lots of homes being built, “but not affordable homes”. At a press conference outside Burnaby City hall on Monday January 28th, he described passing by a construction-prepped gaping hole and soon-to-be-tower where he used to live: “On one of their advertising slogans they say ‘building a community’ but I wonder, a community for who?” Burnaby’s recently announced housing task force, half of which is comprised of corporate developers, their lobbyist cronies and pro-gentrification politicians, gives us a clue. The problem with this task force, Stop Demovictions Burnaby organizer Stephen explained, is that “the thought process that got us into this problem is not gonna get us out”.
In Metrotown under new Mayor Mike Hurley, it’s a new-face-same-agenda situation. Hurley’s housing task force has no tenants on it, but at its official launch, tenants spoke up anyways. Metrotown residents – the evicted and the soon-to-be evicted – alongside supporters from Stop Demovictions Burnaby stood outside Burnaby City Hall where the neighbourhood’s low income community has been sentenced to death time and time again. It was the first council meeting of 2019, and these tenants showed up and refused to be beaten down by the wolves in sheeps’ clothing who make up Mike Hurley’s civic government. Against the developer-dominated Housing Task “Farce,” these tenants demonstrated that evictions will be stopped by tenants’ self-activity, not by developers or landlords.
Hurley’s housing task force consists of an overtly pro-development camp alongside a reform-oriented group of unions and organizations, many of whom have been friendly to the NDP and Burnaby’s BCA-majority council. The pro-development camp includes three real estate developers, two councilors who obediently served demoviction-king Corrigan, and representatives from the Urban Development Institute and Burnaby Board of Trade. The reform-oriented camp includes representatives from BCGEU, ACORN, the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, New Chelsea Society, Burnaby Teachers’ Association and Generation Squeeze. According to Stop Demovictions member Emily Luba, placing developers and corporate interests on the housing taskforce is “like inviting foxes into the henhouse. Neither developers nor their lobby should be on this task force, they are here to profit while pretending to listen.”
Stop Demovictions Burnaby demands that Hurley remove the developers and their lobby from the task force, and calls on the other organizations with seats to offer their spots to renters facing displacement from Metrotown. This would mean those most impacted would be in the majority, and the city would be represented only by Hurley and Keithley, two newly elected politicians who have yet to vote through a demoviction.
The main complaint raised at the news conference was that there is nobody on Hurley’s Housing Task Force who is facing imminent eviction, and significantly, nobody who even rents in the Maywood neighbourhood of Metrotown – the community that has been fighting the profit-hungry attacks by council and developers for eight years. Responding to Mayor Hurley’s claim that no-one from Stop Demovictions had applied to be on the task force, Stephen, a member of Stop Demovictions, said that he had applied in December, through Councillor Keithley, but was told the task force was “already full.”
Kadar lived for many months in slum-like conditions on Telford Avenue in a building owned by Westland Development Corporation. He began the press conference by pointing to a placard portraying Corrigan on a wrecking ball, created by active Stop Demovictions member and Metrotown resident, Linda, and stated that he is “a victim of this gentrifying pig.” Kadar demanded respect and humanity from the city – he voted for Hurley and wants Hurley to listen to him. He is fighting for accountability from Hurley’s civic government, while re-asserting his humanity as a resident of Metrotown who deserves to be heard – a renter with power, unwilling and steadfast in his refusal to accept the displacement-normalizing status quo.
Emily Luba said, “Mike Hurley was elected as mayor by appropriating our demands of a moratorium on demovictions. He even went so far as to use photos from one of our protests on his campaign materials without our permission.” And Kadar proclaimed to Hurley: “You had my vote – It’s like you tricked me. All we are asking is that you stick to your word.”
In Hurley’s opening address at the council meeting, he sung a similar tune – describing working with the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby, the City’s Task Force on Homelessness, and Progressive Housing Society, but with no mention of actual homeless people to be included in conversations about a plan to end homelessness. Stop Demovictions has demanded people before profit for years – we refuse to see institutions of power continually given priority over our voices.
The rally and news conference on January 28th showed that as Hurley’s term as Mayor begins, Stop Demovictions Burnaby and the residents of Metrotown will be there to watch closely and fight to hold him accountable for the promises he made during his campaign. Emily Luba said, “We do not want developers making decisions about our housing, when they have everything to gain and we have everything to lose. We need a Task Force that is majority Metrotown residents who are facing down demovictions.”