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Low-income Maple Ridge residents forced out of housing

Redevelopment brings pain that good city policy can minimize, says Burnaby mayor
Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley speaks, flanked by Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon and Jill Atkey, CEO of BC Not For Profit Housing Association, at the Maple Ridge Housing Affordability Summit on May 30. (Neil Corbett/The News)

In a third installment of the Crisis at Home series, The News looks at a proposed 1,500 unit apartment tower development coming to Maple Ridge, the people it will displace, and the role cities must play in protecting low-income residents from being pushed out of the homes they can afford.

In two to three years, George Topping is going to lose the place he has called home in Maple Ridge for most of a decade.

He doesn’t know where he will live – where he will be able to park his aging travel trailer that is now in a trailer court along the Lougheed Highway. Many of his neighbours there have the same worries.

Some of the lowest income housing in the city, located at 21668 and 21698 Lougheed Hwy., where there are trailers, RVs and motel units being rented as SROs, will be cleared away to make room for two 18-storey high-rise buildings. There are signs out front that say Maple Ridge Motel and Trailer Court, and Centennial Motel.

The same developer, the Apna Group, has a separate proposal for a third tower on next-door properties at 21710 and 21728 Lougheed Hwy.

In total, the sites combine for 4.3 acres, with 30,000 square feet of commercial space at ground level, and 1,510 new living units. It’s near the downtown core at 216th Street.

It’s obviously much needed in a city, and a region, that is gripped with a housing crisis.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge development would replace trailer court, motels with towers

But this urban renewal could cause pain for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, as city councillors noted when the projects were before them for early approvals.

Topping explains he lived on the streets of Maple Ridge until eight years ago. He went through addiction recovery seven years ago, and got clean. He got his life back.

He’s 62, lives in a travel trailer, and uses a mobility scooter with little trailers that he uses to collect recyclables to supplement his modest disability payments. He also has a roommate.

“She helps me cover the bills and that – Hydro, cablevision and everyday bills.”

He had surgery on his back recently, and still moves gingerly.

He said he’s content where he is.

“It’s a nice, close, community, kind of. I know everybody here.”

A city can mandate that developers provide more affordable housing as a condition of their developments, and they can try to protect people like Topping. He said they should be there for the residents 0whose home will be sacrificed for the much-needed new apartment towers.

“There’s no other place for me to move my trailer to,” he said. “All the trailer parks are full in the area, even in the Lower Mainland… people have been trying to find spots. There’s no place to go. Especially for the money that we pay.”

A city hall staff report said there are 25 mobile home pads being rented for $514 to $677 per month. There are also 10 mobile homes being rented for between $800 and $1,100 per month, 22 RVs being rented for $400 to $500 per month, and 24 motel rooms for between $550 and $1,300 per month.

Topping said the developers have been working with residents, and will give them first dibs on a new apartment. He’s not sure he will be able to afford it.

“They are offering us a place, but it won’t be comparable to the rent we’re paying now. We only pay $500 per month for this plot.”

Topping predicts a lot of the residents will be stuck, with no place to live. He has applied for a place with BC Housing, and is on a long list.

“It’s hard to get a place when you’re not getting thousands of dollars a month.”

His roommate and other neighbours have similar sentiments, but did not want to be interviewed on the record.

Another resident at the site said the developer is giving the residents fair offers for trailers that are near the end of their lives, and some are already failing.

Steve Defrene has lived there for most of 20 years, and said the site has gone down hill, and now attracts people who make it unsafe to live there. Police are there on a regular basis.

“It’s dangerous here. It’s really dangerous. The clientele now… and the older things get, nobody wants to keep anything up,” he said.

To him, it’s one of many parts of Maple Ridge that is long overdue for redevelopment.

Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley was the chair of the Metro Vancouver Housing committee for four years, and was introduced as a housing expert when he attended the Housing Affordability Summit in Maple Ridge on May 30.

He saw people in Burnaby become victims of demo-victions. They were displaced from affordable housing in older two and three-storey buildings that were demolished for new developments. The city became more unaffordable.

He said looking out for people living on the margins is critical.

“If you’re going to displace people, you must find them a place to live, number one,” said Hurley.

Now, developers in Burnaby who displace people must offer them housing at the same site, at the same rent as they had been paying.

As an incentive, the city lets them build more densely.

“We don’t expect them to do it for nothing,” said Hurley.

“They don’t want the stigma of throwing people out of their apartments,” he added.

Another key piece of social policy in housing in Burnaby says any developer building six units or more on public land must offer 20 per cent of the units as affordable housing. It must be offered for 20 per cent below the CMHC average, he said. The formula generally brings it in at about 60 per cent of market rent, he said.

Burnaby is a city of approximately 250,000, with buildings over 50 storeys tall, that has seen some of the pitfalls fast-growing Maple Ridge could fall into.

He said affordable housing is the issue of the day, and cities have to make good decisions to make sure growth is well managed. And what is built now will be used for the next 70 years.

He said the two keys for city hall:

“First, go to your community, and talk to them about what the needs are, and get their buy-in,” he said.

He struck a mayor’s task force in Burnaby, and then did follow-up community engagement a year later.

Secondly, he said city hall must be consistent with builders.

“Developers don’t like change – they like certainty.”

And if you do that, “You’re still not going to make everyone happy,” he predicted.

Maple Ridge Mayor Dan Ruimy said Maple Ridge asks a lot of the development community, like providing apartment buildings with wiring for electric cars, bike storage, daycare spaces, larger units with more bedrooms to accommodate families, rather than too many one bedrooms and more.

For a mayor who estimates the population will grow by 20,000 to 30,000 in 10 years, towers that provide 1,500 units, on a busy transportation corridor, are part of a solution to a demand for more units. He said the city needs to work with builders.

“It’s also about attracting developers to come to us, to get what they want, and what we need,” he said. “Whatever we do has to be a win-win.”

Ruimy noted the city has a policy that sets out the compensation for the mobile home owners, and he believes they will be treated fairly.

“They have to be compensated,” said Ruimy. “And the developer will have to give them the right of first refusal.”

READ ALSO: Housing minister tells Maple Ridge summit ideas to add more units

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

Neil Corbett has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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