Burnaby wants 20% of units in newly built housing to be rentals

By: Jessica Mach on May 28, 2019

The City of Burnaby may try to protect the city’s renters by introducing a bold new rental policy — one that has no parallel in the Vancouver area.

On Monday, city council voted unanimously to create amendments to the city’s zoning bylaw. The proposed changes include creating rental-only zones across the city; requiring new developments to dedicate 20% of their units to the residential rental market; and permitting rental housing in commercial zones.

The amended bylaw would also require developers to replace every rental unit they demolish, on a one-to-one basis. Developers would have to rent out the replacement units at 20% below the rental market average, as determined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), said Burnaby Now. In 2018, the CMHC reported that the average rate for a one-bedroom apartment in Burnaby’s Central Park/Metrotown neighbourhood was $1,253.

The bylaw amendments will be presented at a public hearing before a final vote.

“This is a very bold step in addressing the rental housing crisis," said Councillor Pietro Calendino, who introduced the motion. “I think it will definitely have a positive impact on the supply of rental housing of all types … in the years to come. And it will also bring fairness, security and affordability for renters.”

Calendino noted that Burnaby was the first jurisdiction in Metro Vancouver to consider these specific measures.

In recent years, hundreds of rental apartments have been demolished in Burnaby, but few have been built to replace them. Last October, Mayor Mike Hurley won the municipal election on a platform that called for a stop to the demolition of older rental apartments in the city’s center.

But while some are applauding the city’s stance, others are not sure it’s the right move.

David Hutniak, CEO of the non-profit advocacy group Landlord B.C., told the CBC that requiring all new buildings to have rental units would be an obstacle for new projects.

“Everyone is is rightfully concerned about the aging rental stock and displacement of renters ... but the fallout from this has been basically a reaction on only one side of the equation here,” he said.

“The bottom line is that we have persistently low vacancy rates. And if we don't build more supply we are going to continue to have persistently low vacancy rates.”

Still, city council seems confident about the new measures.

“We've looked at lessons learned from other cities and see this as the most secure way to protect rental properties in perpetuity,” said Calendino in a statement. “This policy also promotes the creation of new, high-quality, affordable rental.”