Burnaby City Hall. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

Burnaby council roundup—March 7, 2022

Housing and affordability were the major themes of this week's council meeting, from urban villages to a proposed poverty reduction plan.

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March 8, 2022 | 5:00 am

Catnip is a godsend, let me tell you. It’s one of the few things that will distract Hobbes just long enough for me to get some semblance of work done, and on council night that’s particularly important!

So what happened last night? Well there were a couple of threads that connected many of the important items, and those are housing and affordability.

Let’s take a look.

Poverty reduction strategy

Does Burnaby need its own poverty reduction strategy?

The Burnaby Primary Care Networks says yes. BC has its own poverty reduction strategy, but Burnaby PCN’s Jeff Malmgren said the issue is only getting worse.

“If we didn’t have poverty, we wouldn’t have a homelessness issue. If we didn’t have poverty, we wouldn’t be feeding 6,000 people a week in our community,” said Jeff Malmgren with the group.

“The truth is: it’s not getting better; it’s getting worse. I think you guys have been to the gas pumps lately. I think you’ve been to the grocery store lately. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. And for people who are on the poverty line, it’s gone from almost unbearable to unbearable.”

The heat dome last summer, Malmgren said, was a wakeup call—”we really didn’t know what we didn’t know”—and uncovered people in need that services were unaware of before.

“Unfortunately, some of them were dead when we uncovered them. And the truth is: those are people who are living in poverty that we don’t know about,” Malmgren said.

Simone Brandl, program director for the North Burnaby Neighbourhood House, noted that there are far more people visiting the local food bank than were visiting before.

“We’ve gone from 178 families in our little North Burnaby Neighbourhood House, to over 6,000 Burnaby residents coming to our nine food hubs,” she said, adding that they’re no longer just seeing low-income individuals and families.

Over the past year, food banks have had over a million pounds of food coming in. That was enough to give each person a generous basket of food in the past, but rising rates of people coming in has reduced that.

Other cities do have poverty reduction plans that the city can use as a reference point, Malgrem said. That includes Vancouver, New Westminster, Nelson, Richmond, and the Sunshine Coast, among 35 to 40 communities across the province.

He said there are a number of things that can be included in a poverty reduction strategy, including social needs assessments, living wage zones, low-barrier employment hubs, and social enterprise zones.

“We know that there’s poverty. We know that it’s serious. We don’t know how serious it is,” Malgrem said.

Vibe check

Coun Sav Dhaliwal called poverty in Burnaby and Canada more broadly a “frightening, embarrassing situation.”

“Numbers are going in the wrong direction; we know that,” he said, adding that the people who lost jobs are the most vulnerable people—not those who have a financial cushion available to them.

“We have the ability as a country to do better, and local governments have to play their part.”

He added that they need to keep pressure on provincial and federal governments to also do their part.

Dhaliwal moved that council send the matter to the social planning committee for consideration.

Vote check

Motion carried.

Bainbridge and Lochdale

Bainbridge took up two items on council last night, with one of the delegations, a local resident and former City of Coquitlam planner Joe Sulmona, speaking on the issue and city council voting on a draft of the plan.

Sulmona came in first, but we’ll start here with the staff presentation on the plan, which was presented alongside a similar plan for the Lochdale community.

Both neighbourhoods are being referred to as “urban villages”—somewhere between a suburban sprawl and a town centre, with medium-density forms of housing.

Jesse Dill, the senior development and urban design planner at the city, said the city solicited opinions on things like plan area boundaries, building forms and heights, and the use of public spaces.

On the matter of public spaces, Dill said the Bainbridge plan would increase park and plaza space and green corridors to “create an outdoor living area in these communities.”

Dill said the Bainbridge plan aims to range from up to 25 storeys near the Sperling-Burnaby Lake SkyTrain station, cascading down to two- to three-storey apartments or townhouses east of Bainbridge.

The Lochdale plan, meanwhile, would focus on more pedestrian-oriented roads, including potential “car-free corridors” and adding things like patios and sitting space on sidewalks.

Speaking to council early in the night, Sulmona said a “lot of misinformation has spread that reasonably scaled replacement housing will completely upend what makes Burnaby a great place to live.”

Missing middle is essentially the same scale as single-family housing, he noted, but it would add more supply to the local housing stock.

He also pointed to “overwhelming” resident support for missing middle housing in the city, as noted in the engagement for the recently passed housing strategy.

He added that the city is falling behind regional resident and housing targets, suggesting that “previous administrations could have done more to encourage sufficient housing capacity.”

The proposed Bainbridge plan, he said, would help alleviate that, with a focus on family- and ground-oriented housing. That includes townhouses and small to medium sized apartment buildings.

Vibe check

“For council, the decisions are not as easy as the laypeople may think. We need to accommodate all the various opinions,” he said.

Councillors broadly seemed to agree that there needs to be more access to housing in the city. However, they pushed back on such a hard focus on supply.

“If you think just supply is the answer, I disagree,” said Dhaliwal, noting the influence of money on housing internationally. “Demand has become global.”

If authorities can’t deal with the global financialization of housing, Dhaliwal said, you could densify the whole Lower Mainland without making a dent in affordability.

“I’ve seen that over the last 30 years,” Dhaliwal said. “Regardless of how many new places have been built, people continue to come, people continue to invest.”

With that in mind, he said he’s wary of opening the whole city up to greater density.

Mayor Mike Hurley agreed, saying the “fallacy that somehow more supply leads to more [affordability]” is “just not true.”

“If anyone can show me any area in the world where people actually want to live, that is, that [supply] has made a difference to affordability, I want to see it. Because no one’s been able to point it out to me.”

He said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a recent meeting that Canada needs to double its housing stock, but he said that investment needs to come from provincial and federal governments.

On Bainbridge, Coun Colleen Jordan pushed back on the inclusion of the area referred to in the plan as “Bainbridge east.” In particular, she appeared frustrated with it being included as a “future planning area,” something she believed was unnecessarily galvanizing opposition to the plan in the neighbourhood.

“I’m not going to make a motion to amend the map or something, but I think that’s a mistake,” she said.

The vote before council last night was whether to approve the draft plans to send them to a third round of consultation before final drafts of the plans are presented.

Vote check

Motion carried.

Community gardens

This matter relates back to the presentation on a poverty reduction plan. When Green Coun Joe Keithley first proposed community gardens, he framed it as being part of the broader issue of food security in the community.

And staff returned to council yesterday with a proposal for a pilot community gardens program, starting with two city-owned lots. One is in Greentree Village Park, and the other is at 7679 13th Street, adjacent to Ernie Winch Park.

Vibe check

Councillors had uniformly positive comments about this program, and Keithley said the gardens could see seeds this spring.

“[In] our evermore fractured world, … it only makes sense that we need to be promoting and enabling our own food supply,” Keithley said.

“It’s a healthy mood physically and mentally, and will help with our climate goals as well. The more we can grow at home, the better off we are.”

Keithley predicted a “great success” and that the program would see an expansion in the future.

Coun James Wang similarly spoke in favour, saying he hopes to see the program expand in the near future.

And he said he would like to see the two proposed sites made even larger.

Vote check

Motion carried.

Wayburne townhouses

A proposed townhouse project that faced significant pushback from neighbours was up for second reading last night. We’ve written a fair bit about the proposal in the past, so we’ll just link you to some of our past work here.

Vibe check

Jordan was the sole vote against this project. The independent councillor first sought to have the vote pushed back two weeks to the next council meeting, citing the absence of councillors Dan Johnston and Alison Gu.

However, Mayor Mike Hurley questioned why their absence would be cause for a deferral, noting that there was a quorum present at the meeting. And no other councillors offered to second her motion, leaving it dead on arrival.

She spoke against the proposal, saying it added a 30-plus-foot wall next to single-family houses, much to the dismay of neighbouring residents. She proposed the city should instead buy the lot to support affordable or co-op housing.

Coun Pietro Calendino sought unsuccessfully to shut down that notion with a point of order. Nevertheless, council was broadly in favour of the project.

Vote check

Motion carried with Jordan opposed.

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