Renovictions, Gentrification and Homelessness: Summary of forum (June 11, 2014)

forum on renoviction

There was a full house on June 11th at the forum on renovictions held at the Carnegie Community Centre. The term “renoviction” is used to describe the situation where landlords evict tenants for the purported reason of repairing or renovating rental units, and though the tenants would be permitted to return, their rents are subsequently hiked to a level that force them to leave because they cannot afford the rent increases.

forum renoviction dtesThe forum on gentrification, homelessness and renovictions was organized by the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP). A number of speakers spoke for 5 minutes each. Long-time activist Jean Swanson traced the loss of SROs (single room occupancy units) from the 1980s to 2014, and illustrated (click for YouTube video) the progression through a long graph that also showed how many SROs were built annually. It was noted that the homeless count this year was 2,770 persons, higher than it has ever been.

JD Larkin of the PIVOT Legal Society noted that rents are not attached to housing units, but to a person under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). She said that if you can force the person out, then you can raise the rents. There are several ways to force people out, and renovictions are one way to accomplish this. Even simple repairs have been used to renovict tenants. Buildings are sometimes allowed to run down, and subsequently the bad building condition is then used as an excuse for doing major repairs. As a countermeasure, the City of Vancouver could enforce its standards and maintenance bylaw to prevent buildings from falling into disrepair.

Rents can be hiked through a provision in the RTA that allows owners to apply for an exceptional rent increase where rents have been raised in nearby buildings (i.e., through renoviction). Larkin also said that there are human rights implications in the displacement of low-income residents, as renovictions disproportionately affect those on assistance, people with disabilities and aboriginal residents.

Herb Varley provided a history lesson. He showed how the there have been four great waves of displacement in the Downtown Eastside. The first wave came during colonialism and affected indigenous residents. The second wave occurred in the Powell Street area when Japanese Canadians were moved off to internment camps during the Second World War and their neighbourhood was sold off. The third wave was in the early 1970s with the construction of the viaducts at Hogan’s Alley (then a predominantly black neighbourhood). The fourth and current wave of displacement is ongoing now. Varley said that that this wave is largely income-based, and it disproportionately affects aboriginal people and those in the low-income bracket.

Nate Crompton noted that with the passage of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan, the Vancouver’s mayor has given the green light to developers and let them know that the Downtown Eastside is open for business. There are active population targets in the plan, with 3,000 people to be displaced and scattered across the city (at least according to the plan; rent supplements won’t go as far in other neighbourhoods). There’s also a plan to reduce the number of SROs and to gentrify the neighbourhood.

A total of 180 units of SROs were lost in Vancouver last year, a fact pointed to by Wendy Pedersen another long-time activist. An additional 10,000 units of condos as well as many more market rental units are stated goals of the City’s recently-passed Local Area Plan. Pedersen also warned about political spin in messaging from City Hall. She proceeded to tear up the Local Area Plan to applause to show what she thought about the City’s new document.

Herb Varley added some comic relief by pointing out that the City’s newly-designed police cruisers look like ‘Batmobiles’ and he poked fun at the idea behind gentrification: that a person with an expensive Starbucks coffee and dressed in a suit is an example of something to aspire to.

One of the questions asked repeatedly during the open discussion portion of the meeting was simply this: “How do we go forward from here?” A number of speakers spoke about the upcoming election and saw the opportunity for political action. A resident noted that politicians are not fulfilling their moral responsibility to take care of people, and others said that the social contract was broken. The City of Vancouver has a lot of power in zoning (regulating land use) and in creating and enforcing bylaws. An example was provided on how the City could enforce the standards and maintenance bylaw to require owners to keep buildings in good repair, and if needed, to make the repairs themselves and charge the owners.

Further details on the issues discussed at the meeting are on the CCAP website and photos of the event are up on a Facebook page. CityHallWatch encourages our readers to keep an eye out for mainstream media coverage of this event, noting that the quantity and orientation of coverage may say much about the service to society provided by those media outlets themselves as about the content of this important meeting.

Access Television has a short video in which Jean Swanson “illustrates the ways policy decisions have lead to Vancouver’s spike in homelessness”; we’ve included a direct link to the video below:

Photo: Guest speaker Wendy Pedersen

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