A People's Plan for METROTOWN
 

Territorial Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the People's Plan for Metrotown is written and fought for on the unceded and occupied territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Kwikwetlem peoples. We acknowledge that members of the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign are uninvited guests on this land.

The People's Plan is part of a fight for a different system entirely, one that undoes settler-colonial property relations and erases colonial borders. Our fight is much wider than one simply for more affordable housing to be built upon this occupied land. Homeowner solutions to the housing crisis, and the foreign owners tax re-affirm the rights of white, Canadian settlers to stolen land. Private property is rooted in this colonial entitlement to Indigenous land on the one hand, and imperialist, anti-Asian white supremacy on the other. In Canada, capitalism relies on the theft of Indigenous land and resources as well as the management of the migration of immigrants and refugees in ways that are useful for Canada. We reject the entitlement that gives white settlers the power to control who is allowed on stolen land. We reject blaming foreign investment for a housing crisis that is caused by global capitalism, in which Canada holds a position of power.

The People's Plan comes out of the anti- displacement struggle of the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign; it is a call to grassroots action to interrupt market forces and make redistributive, non-market, and local- knowledge solutions to our shared housing crisis. In our Plan we have tried to think of non-market housing as redistributing stolen wealth back to Indigenous peoples, and have considered how Indigenous peoples can be prioritized in our future community.


Nuu Chah Nulth / Irish housing activist Sadie Morris raises her drum & voice in acknowledgement of unceded territory during a protest occupation of Mayor Derrick Corrigan's office in March 2017

 

INTRODUCTION:
WHERE METROTOWN GOES, SO GOES METRO VANCOUVER

It was just after 10 pm at another public hearing for another Metrotown rezoning and demoviction, and it was the end of November, near the end of a long year of protest against Mayor Corrigan's rezoning policies. After another speaker called for council to stop displacing people through rezonings, Mr. Corrigan exploded. "Where would you put 40,000 people a year!" he demanded. "Tell me. There are 40,000 people coming into the Lower Mainland every year through the federal government's immigration and refugee acceptance numbers. Where are they going to go? That's the problem we mayors are facing."

This report, the People's Plan for Metrotown, is an answer to Mayor Corrigan's question. It is an alternative to his disastrous "Downtown" Metrotown Plan that orchestrates the mass displacement of 6,000 renters out of their home community through an area-wide upzoning and replacing low-end of market rental apartment buildings with condo towers. The People's Plan shows that this mass displacement is not inevitable; it proves there is a doable and realistic approach to development without displacement in Metrotown.


 

METROTOWN: THE EPICENTRE OF DEMOVICTIONS

The demovictions crisis is not unique to Burnaby. Like other cities in Metro Vancouver, Burnaby has lost its manufac- turing industries and relies on real estate development (and redevelopment) as an economic engine. Like other City Coun- cils, Burnaby’s is under pressure from the bloated and arrogant development in- dustry. In a consumption-based society that prioritizes the property owner and investor class, where governments work to secure an atmosphere favourable for investment, working class and low-in- come renters in Burnaby, as in other cities, are made to feel unwelcome and insecure, treated as temporary tenants, and temporary workers, expected to pack up and leave on short notice.

But the demovictions crisis in Metrotown is important because, in its massive scale and the nakedness of its planning, it makes the terms of Western Canada's housing crisis obvious. Metrotown demovictions make it clear that Cities municipal governments plan and execute economic displacement of renters. They are evidence that development corporations depend on the mass displacement of working class tenants for their corporate profits.

Burnaby Mayor Corrigan's 2017 "Downtown" Metrotown Plan streamlines and systematizes demovictions by designating 3,000 low-end of market apartment units for rezoning and demolition. Mayor Corrigan does not even bother paying lip service to the futures of people pushed out of the apartments he demolishes. The City refuses even token inclusionary zoning in the exclusive glass condo towers to replace the demolished rental units. Metrotown makes it clear that the governments that plot our displacement do not care for our wellbeing.

The Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign is dedicated to stopping the involuntary displacement of 6,000 people from their home community, because we believe that the community struggle here can be an example, and can make important gains for similar struggles elsewhere in British Columbia. The People's Plan for Metrotown is the document of this struggle and its hopes.

 

DISPLACEMENT IS THE RESULT OF TREATING HOMES AS INVESTMENTS

Metrotown residents describe their homes as more than a building. Newcomer residents say that home includes their children's access to the Maywood School where there are teachers who speak Spanish and Tagalog, and where there is a subsidized meal program. Long time resident seniors say that home includes the neighbour across the hall who they have known for 20 years, that it includes feeling safe and welcome walking around the block in the summer and in the Metrotown mall in the winter. Home is a community made up of people where you feel belonging, a communion with nature, a sense of security, a place you can keep and arrange your things, a door you can arrive at, open and lock behind you. Home is a set of relationships a person has with others, with the earth, and with belongings.

Mass demovictions and displacement in Metrotown asks the question, when houses become hot commodities for investors to buy and trade, is there any space in them for homes? Since the Federal government terminated budgets for all federal housing programs in 1994, housing in Canada has also become an important commodity. Houses, particularly in cities, have become gambling chips in the real estate market and a source of super profits for landlords and developers. Access to housing is determined strictly through a market whose goal is to produce profits not houses. If some houses become homes, it is incidental; it is by no means a necessity. It can be more profitable to let a house sit empty, while the market "grows", until it's ripe to sell. The definition of economic growth carries within it the premise that houses may not be lived in and human bodies may not be housed. According to Corrigan and his “Downtown” Metrotown Plan, this is only a small price to pay for economic growth.



Low-end of market apartment buildings on Dunblane and Imperial Street. Every building on the square block was bought by condo developers and transformed from being homes for working class people to investments, and commodities for sale to the highest bidder. A grassroots social impact study run by Stop Demovictions Burnaby found that over 400 people were displaced on this block alone.

 

ECONOMIC GROWTH THROUGH DISPLACING NON-OWNERS

Gentrification is a social and economic process that replaces working-class, racialized communities and their homes and social and resource spaces that they've built with higher-income groups and their consumer spaces. The dominant presence of racialized, Indigenous and low-income people helps depress the value of these non- capitalist spaces.

Our lives are not seen as worthy by the upper classes and the governments that represent their values and interests. Our neighbourhoods and communities are seen as dead and derelict zones requiring "revitalization." Areas that are home to mostly working class, racialized and colonized peoples, are targets for government orchestrated, corporately financed "revitalization" schemes. Gentrification is not a natural or inevitable process; it is planned and enabled by city (and other) governments for the profit of investors, real estate developers, and entrepreneurs. Attracted by height and density bonuses, tax holidays and public-private partnerships, gentrifiers inject the neighbourhood with investment capital, raise rents, demolish older apartment buildings, and evict tenants. Revitalization brings vitality to a neighbourhood like turning off life support brings an end to illness. Like "growth", revitalization is a misnomer: it signals just the opposite of vitality for many—eviction and mass displacement, rupture in networks of survival, despair, and death.

Metrotown demovictions are evidence that development corporations depend on the mass displacement of working class tenants for their corporate profits. BC Assessment predicts land values will triple in the Metrotown neighbourhood in 2017, yet the "improvements value" or the value of what is added to the land (buildings, gardens, etc.) will depreciate by roughly 90%. (See Appendix 2.) What causes the value of land to rise so dramatically while the value of the buildings on it plummets? The City government has announced the removal of working class residents, and flagged the properties for investment and condo development.

Demovictions are not just bad policy, they are the product of a vicious economy. Feeding the growth of the real estate market on a limited amount of land means building inwards, cannibalizing existing neighbourhoods where investment has stagnated, and upwards, with glass spires spiralling into the sky. For investors, there is no better deal than displacing Metrotown renters. By buying an old apartment building tearing it down and building a condo tower in its place, they achieve the cartoon Wall Street adage: buy low, sell high.


Occupation at Anne Kang's (NDP) office | April 11, 2017

 

METHODOLOGY

The People's Plan for Metrotown was prepared by the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign. Research for the report was carried out as part of the community organizing work of Stop Demovictions, through a planning method called "Participatory Action Research". In planning circles around the world, Participatory Action Research is recognized as a method for bridging community experience and desires with the world of social and community planning. Its basic premise is that activism is a space of community engagement, mobilization, and transference of local knowledge. As a group that has organized intimately in the homes, buildings, and streets of Metrotown, and whose membership is made up of Metrotown residents, Stop Demovictions is uniquely situated to carry out the Participatory Action Research planning represented by this report.

Our planning started from the foundations of community knowledge that we have accumulated over two years of community organizing to stop demovictions. In the spring of 2016, we published a grassroots social impact study on the effects of demovictions on the Metrotown renter community also conducted through Participatory Action Research. This report, "A Community Under Attack", is available on our website here.

In mid-December 2016, Stop Demovictions started including questions about a community vision for Metrotown in our regular public meetings. In January we held a meeting specifically on the question of an alternative to Corrigan's "Downtown" Metrotown plan. At this meeting, 35 people from the affected community brainstormed their desires and dreams for the future of their community. Stop Demovictions took the results of this brainstorming, and though a series of two meetings in mid-January, drafted a summary of the main points.

In February, we workshopped the results of this meeting at another public meeting, and plotted the community's ideas on a map of the area. Then, over more smaller group meetings, with 15-20 people participating at a time, we narrowed down the summary of points into 3 key principles, and a longer list of actions that stemmed from those principles. We then workshopped this draft vision with the community at public outreach sessions at Metrotown skytrain station, in front of the Metrotown library. At another public meeting held at the beginning of April we presented the principles and draft actions as the draft of a People’s Plan for Metrotown. On June 5th, we presented the People’s Plan in its proposed form to a community meeting of about 40 people, along with a film about social housing and grassroots community planning in Vienna, Austria.

Along the way, we drafted leaflets, articles, and meeting summaries, testing our ideas in the community. Finally, throughout June members of Stop Demovictions took on the work of drafting the People's Plan for Metrotown report and a volunteer laid it out. We are confident that our work represents the best common dreams and desires of the renter community in Metrotown.