"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Friday, July 22, 2016

Some context, please, Mr. Horgan

Housing affordability and its associated issues, including "demo-victions," comprise one of the most pressing economic and social issues in the Lower Mainland. Little wonder, then, that the opposition New Democrats have mounted a campaign for more government action on the problem.
BlueSky's proposed development on Foster, east of Clarke.
It might help their cause, however, if they picked a more suitable example of demo-viction malfeasance than the one they highlighted in Coquitlam earlier this week.
In fact, the example they showcased, the big BlueSky Properties Inc. development on Foster Ave. in Burquitlam, could and should be held up, not as a dramatic example of corporate greed and provincial government inaction, but as a heartening example of corporate responsibility, successful community engagement, and enlightened municipal policy.
Here's the story.
As part of its housing-affordability campaign, the New Democrats staged a press conference earlier this week against the backdrop of the aging apartments in Coquitlam that will be demolished to make way for the BlueSky development at North Road and Foster Avenue.
Supported by NDP MLA Selina Robinson and one-time NDP candidate and current Coquitlam Councillor Chris Wilson*, NDP leader John Horgan pointed out that the apartments are slated for demolition to make way for condo towers that are coming as part of the densification of Burquitlam now happening in anticipation of the arrival of the Evergreen Line early next year.
With reportedly scant reference to the specific details of the BlueSky redevelopment, Mr. Horgan declared, "People and families are scrambling to find affordable rental housing here in Coquitlam and across the Lower Mainland, and they aren't getting any leadership from Christy Clark. People want to know why the Christy Clark government has not acted to protect renters and increase the number of rental homes in this overheated property market."
Fair enough comment on the provincial level. But, on the municipal level, the suggestion that old rental buildings are demolished with little regard for the future of the tenants is completely off base.
In fact, the BlueSky development is notable for the developer's care and attention to ensure that the renters in the existing 112 units are cared for. The company's commitment to this was so thorough that the development proposal won the support of both the Burquitlam Community Association and the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group.
The 873-unit project will eventually comprise three condo towers boasting 816 for-sale units (many of which will, of course, be put on the rental market) and a purpose-building, five-storey, 57-unit rental building, in which rents will be similar to the rents in the existing complex. (Please click here to read the full Coquitlam staff report on the project.)
Furthermore, with Coquitlam's Transit-Oriented Development Strategy and (then-old but since-updated) Housing Affordablity Strategy guiding them, city officials worked with BlueSky to ensure that several other important steps were taken to assist in the relocation of the existing renters who would not find space in the new rental building or one of the condos. The company:

  • Hired an on-site rental relocation coordinator.
  • Instituted ongoing communication and meetings with tenants, including relocation information.
  • Provided tenants with a six-month eviction notice, rather than the provincially required two months.
  • Promised to waive multiple months' rent, rather than the one-month required by law. Two months' rent would be waved if the tenant relocates within four months of receiving notice; three months' waved if relocation takes place between four and six months after notice is served.
  • Offered any tenant or member of their immediate family the opportunity to purchase a unit within the BlueSky, or any Bosa Properties development, with 12 months' worth of rent going towards the down-payment on their new home.

The press release accompanying Mr. Horgan's news conference said he believes, "fair tenant relocation policies are needed, and the province should lead. Standards for requiring relocation plans for tenants and replacing demolished units need to be in place around the province, not just in some communities."
Fair enough.
But it would have been infinitely more informative (if somewhat less dramatic) for him to have pointed out that the "fair tenant relocation policies" he is calling for already exist in the very community in which he chose to voice his concerns.

(*Unlike Mr. Horgan, Mr. Wilson provided some contextual background to at least one news outlet, as evidenced by this story.)