June 30th was eviction day for nearly 100 people in three buildings on the 5000 block of Imperial Ave in a heavily demovicted area of Metrotown, Burnaby. Having bought up four adjacent buildings capping the end of the block facing Imperial (they bought one of the buildings already empty), Amacon Development Corporation was awarded a massive density bonus and the license to evict, demolish, and build condos in the place of the only homes these working and retired people could afford. Rather than leave quietly, on the afternoon of eviction day, two dozen of the demovicted and their supporters in the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign staged a “Paint-In” on one of the vacated buildings.
While painting the empty building the gathering also threw up some ad hoc support to those forced out of their homes, and their neighbours anxiously watching and awaiting the same fate. I spoke with eight people being evicted that day, and seven of them said they were moving out to forms of homelessness. A couple loading their pickup truck with unboxed things from an apartment said they were helping their uncle move out. He had lived in the building for twenty-four years and did not understand that he had to leave so had not prepared. That morning, Amacon called him and said he had to be out by nightfall or they would send the bailiff. With nowhere else to go, he was moving to his nephew’s couch in Chilliwack.
The same for a woman who had lived there nearly ten years. She made light of her impending homelessness, saying, “Oh, I’m just going to stay in the building as long as I can and then I’ll just be free for awhile and crash on my friends’ couches.” I asked her why she wasn’t moving into a new apartment. She said, “I looked but couldn’t find anything. But it’s no big deal, I’m sure something will come up.” By the weekend, under pressure from Amacon, she had moved on to this uncertain and insecure homelessness.
These stories are the norm for the demovicted. A survey conducted by the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign on the square block including these buildings found that with less than a month to go before eviction day, 62% of the demovicted had not found a place to move and many of them planned to move into forms of “hidden” homelessness like couch surfing. About a quarter of those surveyed were long-term residents who would experience dramatic rent increases, for example, from $500 for a bachelor suite to nearly $1,000 in the low-vacancy, high-rent market of today.
So far the City has refused to acknowledge the harms they are causing to hundreds of people and have refused to change their development policies that are causing mass demoviction. To the contrary, planners have introduced a new “Downtown Metrotown” plan that will increase default building heights to 12 stories throughout the entire neighbourhood, leveling thousands of units of relatively affordable rental housing. One of the slogans painted on the side of the empty building suggested a different path for resistance against the City-organized mass displacement: “Refuse to Leave!”
The Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign is hosting a public meeting on the proposed “Downtown Metrotown” plan, with speakers from the City planning department, on Thursday July 7th, 6:30pm at the Burnaby Neighbourhood House near the Metrotown Skytrain Station. To read the campaign’s full report on the social impact of demovictions, download it here.