Burnaby council—including members of same party—divided over community report on city’s housing crisis

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      As the deadline approaches for the final report from the Burnaby mayor’s housing task force, some city councillors are raising concerns over a new "community recommendations report".

      It asks the city to allow four- to six-storey apartment buildings in single-family residential neighbourhoods.

      The report, Your Voice. Your Home., was presented to the city council on July 8, and is the product of a one-day community workshop held on May 25.

      This workshop attracted 74 randomly selected residents and 23 representatives of community organizations, and was independently facilitated by SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. It was funded by the mayor’s housing task force.

      According to the report, 44 percent of participants "strongly agreed" and 26 percent "agreed" with the idea of building four- to six-storey apartment buildings in single-family areas.

      But during the July 8 Burnaby council meeting, councillors were divided over this level of support, with some speculating that the report does not reflect the overall views of the city’s residents.

      Coun. Colleen Jordan, one of the councillors skeptical of the report’s findings, called the process “flawed”. She also expressed doubt that 70 percent of the citizens of Burnaby would agree with the participants' conclusions.

      “If this is the kind of recommendation that is coming forward based on this one workshop—with 74 resident participant and 23 community group representatives, which I think the list of community groups is suspect, to say the least—I think we may have a problem coming forward,” Jordan said. “There are a lot of things in here that I agree with, and there is a lot of good work that is done, but I think this particular process was flawed.”

      Another skeptic of the report’s findings was Coun. Dan Johnston.

      He claimed that some “paid professionals” were among the workshop’s participants, trying to “steer the presentation”. As a result, Johnston questions the validity of the reports’ findings.

      “I do have issues with some of the high percentages and I think that there should by some mechanism now that once the report is finished to go back out to the public and give them 30 days to come back and say ‘yeah we agree.’ If that is the case, that is great. If they don’t, I think that we should be examining that,” Johnston added.

      (Clockwise from top left) Burnaby Citizens Association councillors Dan Johnston and Colleen Jordan questioned how representative the panel was, whereas fellow BCA councillors Sav Dhaliwal and Pietro Calendino were more supportive.

      Johnston and Jordan are two of seven councillors who belong to the Burnaby Citizens Association.

      On the other side of the argument, fellow BCA councillors defended the report’s findings.

      Coun. Pietro Calendino, who is leading the mayor’s task force, argued that its members consulted with all the stakeholders during the community consultation, including tenants, housing providers, housing activists, community leaders, developers, and residents.

      Coun. Sav Dhaliwal, also a member of the BCA, criticized some of his fellow councillors for failing to listen to the people’s opinion in addressing the city’s housing crisis.

      “If we don't want to listen to them, that would be our fault," Dhaliwal said. "We have to give this initiative a chance because we know what we were doing didn't work for us at all.

      “It would be our failure to start second-guessing those numbers, because 'I think Burnaby doesn't think that way'," Dhaliwal continued. "Well, that is what people were doing all along. Because we thought this will be good to create 65-storey [buildings] and don't worry about the displacements and all that because we didn't ask people. This was our idea. How much density are we going to do?”

      Joe Keithley, the only Green party member of council, was another who defended the report’s findings, calling it “a fair, objective, and thorough way of looking” into the housing crisis.

      “This was an overall consensus from the people," Keithley said. "We know we need housing and to just sit there and do what we did before does not work.”

      SFU’s Robin Prest, who led the community-recommendation workshop, defended the report before city council. He said that it is “a different type of process than the broad generative” approach taken during the first phase of the task force’s mission.

      “We wanted to promote [it] really widely, to get beyond just the usual suspects,” argued Prest. “And to that end, our post was sent to every single household in Burnaby through bulk mail. And a variety of other methods were used to try to solicit that deep and broad interest to participate.”

      Burnaby mayor Mike Hurley, meanwhile, appreciated the housing task force's efforts in developing recommendations to address the city’s housing crisis.

      “It hasn't been easy at times, but I think it has been a wonderful process," Hurley said. "And I think the public out there appreciate the process and that they are being included in some of the decisions that are being made.”

      According to the report, 13 of the 14 tables in the workshop presented recommendations that supported “densification in order to increase and diversify existing housing supply” in Burnaby. Three in four participants agreed that the city should restrict short-term rentals like Airbnb.

      The exit survey of the workshop also highlighted that participants want Burnaby to create more affordable housing.

      The mayor’s task force is expected to submit its final report on July 29 to city council and present a list of recommendations on how to address the housing crisis in Burnaby.

      “Our time to act is coming soon,” Hurley said.