Hastings Street Urban Renewal Site project on ice
On the Burnaby side of Hastings Street, not far east of Boundary Road, is a piece of land that has been vacant for decades.
It’s 21,327 square feet of prime property, and it can certainly be put to good use. Think nonmarket housing with support services.
That has been on the minds of people at Burnaby City Hall for some time. The city owns 25 percent of the land, and the provincial and federal governments own 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively. With the three levels of government sharing the land, it would seem quite easy to put up such a project.
But as Burnaby’s experience shows, getting the senior governments to put their money where their mouths are with respect to housing is easier said than done.
“Here we are with a piece of prime land in the middle of an urban area where we could do something together to be able to improve the opportunities for affordable housing, and we’re left without any sort of option to be able to achieve that goal,” a frustrated Mayor Derek Corrigan told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Known as the Hastings Street Urban Renewal Site, the city considers it a perfect location for a creative, tripartite effort in creating housing.
“I’m thinking in terms of a cooperative type of arrangement, something that will allow a mixture of housing types, because building one big social-housing project is the way of the past,” Corrigan said. “Integrating housing is the way of the future.”
A staff report prepared last summer recalls that following a council decision in May 2008, Corrigan wrote the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation about the idea of nonmarket housing on 3802 Hastings Street. The mayor also sent a letter to the provincial government.
The city received responses in September of that year, but not those it hoped for.
CMHC wanted to receive market value for its share in the land. “It was also noted that there is not the necessary Federal funding available, at this time, for the development of a viable non-market housing project,” the report states.
The province, for its part, through B.C. Housing, indicated that “it does not currently have the program funding or operating subsidies that would be necessary to achieve a viable non-market housing on the site,” the city staff report adds.
On October 24 this year, Burnaby council was at it again. It passed a motion authorizing a request for proposals for the completion of a development concept and study for nonmarket rental housing on the jointly held land. Consultants will look at a mix of rental-housing options, identify provincial and federal contributions, and allocate costs between land, capital, and operation components to determine financially viable choices.
After the November civic election, a reelected Corrigan mentioned 3802 Hastings Street in his inaugural speech. He asked Burnaby citizens to help persuade the provincial and federal governments to come on board because “these kinds of projects are critical to our future”.
In the phone interview, Corrigan stressed that local governments do not have funds for housing.
“We get eight cents out of every tax dollar while the provincial and federal governments get 92 cents,” he said. “We end up providing for sewer and water and parks and roads and fire and police and all the realities of everyday life. If we try to take on housing and take on responsibility for affordable housing without the money, we’ll break our city.”
But the city can help move along projects like these. As Corrigan explained, Burnaby can do the planning part for 3802 Hastings. It can also pay for the permits and licensing costs, which, he said, can range from $100,000 to $300,000. The city can also put the development application ahead of the queue.
“They have not been doing anything for 20 years,” Corrigan said about the senior governments. “And that’s why we’re in this situation we’re in.”
CMHC did not supply a spokesperson for comment. Rich Coleman, the B.C. Liberal minister responsible for housing, did not return a call.