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Burnaby's the developer now. City vows to create its own housing authority

Get ready for the Burnaby Housing Authority, which plans to acquire land and build housing – particularly in neighbourhoods which currently lack non-market housing.
Housing authority: The City of Burnaby wants to acquire, build and develop its own housing. Photo Jennifer Gauthier/Burnaby Now.

The City of Burnaby is launching a plan to build its own “one-stop shop” to develop housing – and the city wants to launch it by year’s end.

It’s an attempt at a solution “to help fill gaps in Burnaby’s housing supply,” in a city where home prices are consistently on the rise, rents are the third highest in the country, and purpose-built rental housing is still being lost.

The Burnaby Housing Authority (BHA) would focus on building and managing non-market rentals and non-market ownership housing, according to staff recommendations approved by council on Monday.

It would also develop market rentals where the revenues could subsidize building non-market housing.

“This is a good step, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Mayor Mike Hurley at council on June 19.

The housing authority would have four main functions: acquiring land (particularly in neighbourhoods which currently lack non-market housing), developing housing, operating non-market housing, and administration of its housing portfolio.

The city has already been giving millions in cash and land to various housing projects, including the purchase of a co-op housing building last year and, more recently, more than $30 million for two affordable rental projects in Edmonds and Metrotown.

The plan is for the BHA to have an autonomous board of directors appointed by city council.

“Council has decided to structure the board with a majority of council/city representatives in order to strengthen oversight of the use of city assets provided to the BHA … especially during the formative years of the organization,” states the report.

The board will likely include subject matter experts like professionals in real estate development, real estate law and financing, construction management, housing operations and non-market housing.

Dedicated BHA staff would oversee the design, approvals and construction of the housing and partner with developers.

The housing authority would be structured as an arms-length municipal corporation with the city as its sole shareholder.

The report states this structure would allow the city to meet it housing goals, while also generating positive net income, having greater operational control, and “manag(ing) risk and minimiz(ing) administrative complexity and costs.”

The city requires “significant financial and non-financial resources” to create and operate the BHA, including costs for start-up and operation, land acquisition, capital development and housing operations.

The city has been funnelling community benefit bonus payments from developers into reserves explicitly for funding non-market housing.

The city says the balances in the housing reserves will cover the cost of starting the BHA.

The proposal will go to a public consultation phase from June till August.

Staff will create the program specifics between September and October and be ready to launch by November or December.

The city will need the approval of the provincial inspector of municipalities to establish its own corporation.

The city has never used a municipal corporation before and will be required to submit a business plan and other documents to the inspector to ensure the corporation is consistent with legislation, according to the report.

Burnaby is following in the footsteps of Vancouver, Whistler and Squamish, among other B.C. municipalities who have established housing authorities.

Council unanimously approved sending the proposal to public consultation.