Burnaby, province partner on co-op purchases, ‘preserving’ affordable housing
The future of the co-op complexes, owned by IUOI Local 115, was uncertain with the end of their 41- and 42-year leases.
A “collective sigh of relief” swept through the halls of Post 83, a co-operative housing building on Mayberry Street near Metrotown, as tenants learned their fates recently: their building would be bought, but by the BC government and the City of Burnaby—and their remarkably low rents, and way of life, preserved.
The City of Burnaby has contributed just under $30 million to the purchase and will own the Mayberry property, leasing it to the CLT for “a nominal fee” for 60 years.
It could have gone a very different way.
Residents of Post 83 and 115 Place—which comprise 421 units between them—have been on tenterhooks for more than a year.
“I will be honest, our members have been incredibly distressed about the land lease expiration, and not knowing the future of our home,” Post 83 president Deb Tom said at a press conference on Monday.
Their buildings were owned by the Operating Engineers’ Pension Plan, IUOE Local 115, but their leases were up after more than 40 years, and the pension plan announced last year that it intended to sell the co-ops on the private market.
115 Place had been listed as a possible acquisition for BC Housing for at least five years, the pension plan told residents—but talks broke down over the cost of the potential sale.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement with the provincial government on a fair value for the sale of the properties to BC Housing, which has left us with no choice but to pursue other avenues,” the pension plan’s administrator wrote in a letter to residents last July.
“We are deeply disappointed by this outcome. Putting the buildings up for sale in the commercial real estate market is not a decision we have made lightly.”
President of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC (CHFBC), Thom Armstrong, told the Beacon last year that residents of 115 Place were deeply concerned a new owner would raise rents far beyond the relatively nominal amounts that many of them had been paying for years. That, he said, could effectively force their “economic eviction” into a highly competitive rental housing market.
Tenants—many of them low-income, seniors, or new immigrants—were also worried that leaving their co-op would also mean leaving their community.
“The real strain is that some people here, we’re not sure they would handle the transition at all. It’s the breakup of a community, not just the selling of a building. And that’s really the core of it. People are afraid, just literally afraid,” 115 Place resident Duncan Beaton said in October 2021.
IUOE Local 115 said last year that it would not entertain offers from buyers without assurances that there would be no evictions or renovictions on the property, but it also told Burnaby Beacon that the pension plan had a “fiduciary duty” to its members and that it couldn’t hold investments in perpetuity.
In December, the board at 115 Place voted to reject a lease extension that the CHFBC said would have raised rents by about 50%.
While communications last year were tinged with a hint of tension and animosity between the pension plan, the co-ops, and the CHFBC, IUOE Local 115 business manager Brian Cochrane said Monday that their relationship over the last four decades has been largely positive.
“We’ve had a joint interest in trying to find a way to be able to extend affordable housing. … So there’s been some bumps on the road getting to this particular place, but it’s a complicated structure. So I’m pretty proud that we managed to land this,” Cochrane said.
The sale of the properties to the provincial and municipal governments was pegged on Monday as a preservation of affordable and co-operative housing in Burnaby.
Mayor Mike Hurley said the city is invested in maintaining and renewing the 26 existing housing co-operatives in the city, and developing new ones as well.
“The co-op model is one that works for residents from all walks of life, especially those who might not otherwise be able to get into the housing market. We all know there’s only one word for [the market] right now—and that’s ‘crazy,’” he said.
Hurley said the city’s role in encouraging new co-ops could take many forms, including partnerships with other governments and agencies, similar to the one that facilitated the purchases announced Monday, but could also involve the city being directly involved in the ownership and operation of co-ops.
He also noted that the city is already working on another partnership with the Community Land Trust.
“I think we would take advantage of any opportunity we could get to add to that. … We’ll look at every angle we can to get affordable housing into our city.”
One concern raised by Armstrong last year, before the purchase was announced, was that a private buyer could choose to enact any kind of policy they wished for co-op residents.
For example, they could raise rents every year by 10% if they chose without sticking to the provincial rent control policy—because housing co-operatives are not eligible for the same protections as renters under the Residential Tenancy Act.
Nor are they eligible for Burnaby’s tenant assistance policy (TAP), which grants tenants the right to return to a building that’s been redeveloped with the same rent and the same number of bedrooms.
That policy is up for review later this year. Hurley said that while co-ops fall under a different legal situation than other renters in BC, the city will examine whether residents of those buildings can be included in the TAP.
“If there’s a gap we need to close there, if we’re able to do it legally, we will close that gap,” he said.
“But the real intention is not to allow [co-ops] to go away. We want to keep on growing. So anyone who tries to shut down a co-op in Burnaby will find it very difficult.”