News / Vancouver

Burnaby loses nearly 500 rental apartments in seven years in redevelopment frenzy

While most other Metro Vancouver municipalities have added rental units or stayed the same, Burnaby’s rental housing stock has plunged

Redevelopment near Metrotown, where low-rise rental apartment buildings are being replaced by condo towers

Jen St. Denis

Redevelopment near Metrotown, where low-rise rental apartment buildings are being replaced by condo towers

From his $830-a-month bachelor apartment near Metrotown, Matthew Davies has watched three holes growing in the ground across the street with dread.

Older apartment buildings like his used to stand there, but the tenants were evicted when a developer got the land rezoned to build a much higher condo tower. Davies knows the owner of his building has also applied for a rezoning.

At a time when housing experts and governments are trying to figure out how to grow Canada’s declining rental housing stock, a redevelopment frenzy in Burnaby has resulted in a whopping loss of 478 apartments between 2010 and 2016.

That’s far above what other Metro Vancouver municipalities have experienced: most have either made modest gains, stayed the same or lost just a few units over the same period, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rental market survey.

The municipality with the next highest rate of loss was White Rock, with 25 fewer apartments between 2010 and 2016. Vancouver, which has offered incentives to developers to build market rental, gained 2,227.

Between 2010 and 2016, Burnaby lost 478 units of purpose-built rental housing, making the municipality an outlier amongst Metro Vancouver municipalities

Data source: CMHC Rental Market Survey

Between 2010 and 2016, Burnaby lost 478 units of purpose-built rental housing, making the municipality an outlier amongst Metro Vancouver municipalities

“When you compare it to the other municipalities, it is somewhat shocking,” said Rick McGowan, the founder of the Metrotown Residents’ Association. “But it’s not unexpected when you look at Metrotown, where most of those apartments have been lost. It’s been happening since about 2013.”

The residential areas around Metrotown, where 30-year old mid-rise apartment buildings are common, has been undergoing rapid redevelopment over the past few years, stemming from a 2010 city council decision to increase density in the area. Developers have rushed to buy the older buildings, which they can then redevelop into high-rise condos. The resulting “demovictions” have sparked protests and a call to halt rezonings and review the city’s plan for the area.

McGowan has tracked around 600 apartments that have been lost or threatened.

Lou Pelletier, director of planning and development for the City of Burnaby, dismissed the CMHC data: it doesn’t include basement suites or condos that are being rented, so “does not capture the full scope of rental housing development activity in Burnaby, and does not serve to inform readers as to rental housing development occurring in other communities,” wrote Pelletier in an email.

Pelletier outlined several upcoming rental buildings approved by council, totalling 1,407 units that will be constructed in the future. The city has approved new permits for 791 secondary suites, and estimates that out of 9,888 condo units built over the past six years, 2,400 will be rented.

“There’s really not a lot out there,” said Davies of his search for a new rental.

“Some of the new condos are going to be rental properties, but they’re all going to be market rental units… the rents are in some cases almost double.”

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