Burnaby taking additional steps to address affordable housing crisis

With a number of announcements over the last few months tied to housing in Burnaby–including just one last week involving 20 new units at Susana Cogan Place–it seems to be quite busy on the home-building front. As another example, the city and the province, among others, recently announced a plan to build an additional 1,500 new affordable homes with the province investing an estimated $253M.

On Monday Sept. 18, the city’s new bylaw to allow for laneway homes came into effect, permitting Burnaby residents to build smaller, potentially more affordable homes in their backyards. According to the City of Burnaby laneway homes “can provide additional space for families, or serve as a new source of rental housing, while also providing income for the homeowner.” “This is a significant step forward for our efforts to add housing to Burnaby, while also preserving the local character that the people living in our single-family neighbourhoods love about where they live,” Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley explained in a release.

While affordable housing advocates welcomed the news, some have felt the scale needs to increase. “We are already in a 30-year housing crisis and there’s a real sense of urgency. We like to say that the best time to build a house was 20 years ago, and the second best time is now,” says Erika Sagert, who is the Policy Manager at BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA). While she feels the pace of builds is improving, she feels the government can better streamline the approval process and create new affordable housing faster and easier.

In addition, municipalities have a variety of policy tools to deliver new homes quickly without additional barriers and they need to use these tools to address the crisis. One tool Sagert mentioned is inclusionary zoning where the municipality designates a set number of units in a new housing development to affordable rental homes. “Anything that eases the crisis is good, but we need to think on a bigger scale,” she added. Large-scale projects are necessary to provide more homes for people paying a very high percentage of their incomes in rent. Sagert added that “15,000 renter households are spending more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities (39% of all renter households in Burnaby) and 7,500 renter households are spending more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities (19% of all renter households in Burnaby).” This large pool of renters, she notes, is at an increased risk of homelessness. According to the 2021 BC Housing Needs Report, 1,805 Burnaby households are on BC Housing’s waitlist for affordable housing. How they are surviving in the interim is anyone’s guess, but it is very possible that they are sacrificing on other essentials to pay for rent.

Lubna El Elaimy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burnaby Beacon