The Tyee's series on renting in Vancouver

The Tyee has commissioned a series by Jackie Wong on renting in the Metro Vancouver area.

Part 1: No Room to Rent in the Livable City:

[L]andlords, especially those straining to maintain aging but affordably priced properties, sometimes deem it necessary to evict long-term tenants in order to carry out upgrades. Others evict tenant to occupy units for personal use. Appealing against such ‘no-fault’ evictions can lead to drawn-out disputes before the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch, notorious among renters for its secrecy and procedural inconsistency.

Part 2: Thrown Out: Fight Grinds on Against ‘Renovictions’:

As [residents of an apartment complex evicted so the landlord renovate the building] saw it, once in possession of a vacant renovated suite the landlords could increase the rent, collecting more from new tenants than they would from its former occupants. Residents regarded the derelict conditions in the hallways as intimidation tactics, meant to motivate tenants to move out on their own when eviction notices weren’t enough.

Part 3: Landlords See a High Price to Cheap Rent:

It’s hard to argue with people who’d like to be able to stay in homes where they’ve become settled. But it’s equally hard to argue that private investors should pay to renovate Vancouver’s many apartment buildings in need of updating without their getting anything in return.

Part 4: Inside BC’s Secretive Landlord-Tenant Dispute Process:

[T]he isolated working conditions and lack of communication with stakeholders created a culture of secrecy unusual for a public tribunal, this former DRO [dispute resolution officer] says. 

She first dealt with the Residential Tenancy Branch as a law student, representing tenants. The DROs she encountered were lawyers. It was only when she later went to work for the RTB herself that she discovered a law degree was not a job requirement. Some of her colleagues had held other quasi-judicial roles, such as working as inspectors for the Liquor Distribution Branch.

Part 5: Landlords and Tenants Agree: Market Can’t Fix Itself:

The City of Vancouver’s Rental Housing Synthesis Report — a blueprint for changes it would like to see — concedes that reverting to pre-1973 tax policy won’t help in today’s environment. Instead, it calls for partnerships with senior governments in targeted programs with measurable outcomes.

Some of the ideas it suggests:

  • Provide green incentives to support rental building retrofits.
  • Provide HST exemption for goods and services required to operate and update rental housing.
  • Increase depreciation rates for rental housing assets.
  • Help smaller landlords qualify for small business taxation rates.
  • Institute a rollover provision so landlords can defer payment of their capital gains tax when they re-invest in rental housing assets.
  • Modify eligibility criteria for landlords to make use of the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP). Many Vancouver buildings

Alex Stewart lives in one of downtown Vancouver’s single room occupancy (SRO) buildings and pays $10 more than the welfare shelter rate of $375. But the retired merchant marine worries as the owner continues making upgrades to the building, at 936 Main Street, that it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be evicted to make room for a tenant able to pay a higher rent.

July 25, 2012

I could hear the sounds coming up Parker Street. It’s the house with the big renoviction sign outside of it. I wait until there is a pause in the music before I ring the doorbell. There used to be several doorbells, and now there’s just the one. Justin pops open the door and says look around. He runs back up and the music resumes. The house with the knob on the spire is onto its third owner. The thick darkly stained base boards are in pretty great shape. The stained glass windows are shining tonight.

On the second floor there are several rooms with several makeshift beds in each one. This is probably the closest it’s been to the brothel it was once.

The top floor is suffocatingly warm. A cold drink helps, and so does the view. You can see the whole city from up here. Everything is in the process of being packed. For now there are just piles of things and emptiness. Justin and Curtis are in the music room. They pause when I come in to try and make courteous chit chat, but they’re just getting started. They can’t stop now. The conversation doesn’t last for long. Justin is scrambling now. None of his keyboards work, so the three string acoustic guitar will have to do. I play the guitar like a bass with a mic inside the body and Curtis cracks his kit like a pro. Justin is down on the ground, leaping back up, running back down, teasing out the limitations of sound. He only has the house for a few more days. I’m reminded of my teenage years, except, I was never in a band that sounded free. Sorry, Barrett and Matt and the rest. It was never meant to be. But this one time thing was good. I just met Curtis, but I know he’s leaving the country. And Justin, he’s about to have a make it or break it year. I don’t know any of this until after. For now, I am supplying the backbeat. And a bit of stability opens up new possibilities.

As a filmmaker l found the juxtaposition between the #eastside of #Vancouver and the encroaching ‘renoviction’ of the surrounding hip suburbs fascinating. But while filming yesterday, l thought, do l really need to show this! To show the mentally ill let loose on the streets, left to battle the vultures of organised crime ~ drugs, prostitution, robberies. Where is the dignity and compassion in showing this! Do people really need to see a needle in the arm to believe it? And is documentary really about just staring at the train wreck, or should it try and bring about some positive change, jump in there and help out!

Painting by artist ricardo e sandoval

MEGA-NEWS: DTES planning process not working for low-income people

On November 8, over 50 people attended a meeting at the Carnegie Community Centre to discuss whether the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) was working for low-income community members. The general consensus was no. 

“Everybody here who’s involved with LAPP is spending tons of time at bureaucratic meetings and reading reams of paper that the City churns out,” says Jean Swanson, coordinator of the Carnegie Community Action Project, adding 10-12 members are spending 160 hours a week on the LAPP. “Could this time be spent more effectively doing something else?”

Committee members acknowledged they spent less time organizing demonstrations and grassroots campaigns against gentrification than in previous years because of the LAPP. They cite the approval of the condo and commercial development at 955 East Hastings as an example of a failure to organize strong opposition. 

“We’re getting screwed by the process, and the people who are screwing us are the developers and people who have contracts, investments, and properties tied up in the Downtown Eastside,” says Ivan Drury, former co-chair of the LAPP and a member of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council.

But that doesn’t mean low-income committee members will be quitting the LAPP. Instead they vowed to create a “people’s plan” within the LAPP by focusing on grassroots, peer group campaigns to improve living conditions in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), stopping further development in the neighbourhood, and developing their own plan for the future of the DTES by consulting with low-income residents. 

“I think it’s true what people said about rallying numbers and making alliances, but we can’t just have numbers, we also need a vision of what’s to be done. We need to have a program and ideas that we unite around and that we fight for,” says Drury. 

“This group that’s been developing vision through the LAPP is developing as a leadership that can put forward some ideas to rally around.”

by Katie Hyslop

This article originally appeared in Megaphone Magazine #117.