The rumours are true: the City of Burnaby will be establishing a municipal housing corporation called the Burnaby Housing Authority (BHA) and the plan is to launch the authority this year.
The BHA will have four major functions: acquisition, development, operation, and administration. Its primary focus will be non-market housing -- both rental and ownership -- but will also be involved in market rental housing if the revenue generated would contribute towards its non-market housing goals.
In terms of acquisitions, the BHA will acquire a portfolio of land that could include both existing housing units and housing units under construction, targeting neighbourhoods of Burnaby that lack non-market housing with the end goal of maximizing the development potential of the land.
The BHA will then be able to develop new housing units just like any other developer, with its own staff of development managers overseeing design, approvals, and construction.
Notably, BHA's acquisitions and developments can include partnerships with the development community. It will also partner with non-profit organizations, government agencies, and other qualified entities in order to operate non-market housing units, with a particular focus on units for tenants that require additional supports.
The BHA will be responsible for overseeing its housing portfolio, including reviewing documents to confirm compliance with various agreements and policies, preparing and submitting reports as required. The housing authority may also eventually take over administration of all other non-market housing units that are currently overseen by the City, creating a "one-stop shop" for non-market housing administration and inquiries in Burnaby.
The City stresses that it wants the BHA to be positioned as a corporation that can help fill gaps in Burnaby's housing supply and contribute "through collaboration, not competition."
The Burnaby Housing Authority will be an "arms-length" municipal corporation with the City as the sole shareholder but governed by its own autonomous Board of Directors, which will be appointed by Council.
According to a Council report, the Board of Directors will be structured with a majority of representatives from the City and Council, "in order to strengthen oversight of the use of City assets provided to the BHA, and to ensure ongoing alignment between BHA and City objectives, especially during the formative years of the organization."
The makeup of the rest of the board is yet to be determined, but will likely include subject matter experts and representatives of groups with proficiencies relating to real estate development, real estate law, real estate financing, construction management, housing operations, and non-market housing.
The City will likely also provide the housing authority with various kinds of assistance. The exact assistance has not been solidified and would need to be formalized through a partnership agreement, but the City says it could include transferring City-owned land or buildings, investment through City funds, pre-zoning of development sites, servicing of development sites, fast-tracking approvals, dedicated staff resources, extensions of preferable financing rates, and offering loan guarantees.
Over the years, the City has grown its reserve fund from community amenity contributions -- which are called community benefit bonuses in Burnaby -- and anticipates that the balance of the reserve funds will be sufficient to cover the initial costs of starting the corporation, including acquisitions, capital development, and operations.
The pre-planning phase of establishing the BHA was completed in late-2022 and consisted of researching other housing authorities and development corporations across Canada. The Council report did not mention which examples were looked at, but they may not have had to look far as the City of Surrey had a similar corporation, called the Surrey City Development Corporation, that formed in 2007, was shuttered in 2020, and then recently revived in April.
City staff will present key elements of the BHA to Council on Monday, June 19. The City will then work towards solidifying those key elements this summer before formally establishing the corporation in the fall and, hopefully, launching operations before the end of the year.
Under the Province of British Columbia's Local Government Act, the City of Burnaby would need to obtain approval from the provincial Inspector of Municipalities in order to establish the municipal corporation. That process would entail the City submitting draft articles of incorporation and a business plan.
The expected timeline of establishing the Burnaby Housing Authority. (City of Burnaby)