Vancouver activists make a peaceful "housing stand"

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The northeast corner of Moberly Road and Sixth Avenue is a familiar spot for Vancouverite Rider Cooey.

From late 2007 to mid-2008, Cooey and like-minded activists stood there on many Saturdays. For an hour, starting at noon, he and the others hoisted placards and gave out leaflets that called attention to the housing problem in the province.

On Saturday (November 24), Cooey will pick up his sign again. Along with people at about a dozen intersections across the Lower Mainland, they will be reviving a peaceful protest known as a ‘housing stand’.

“We’re trying to influence public discourse in the lead-up to the provincial election,” Cooey told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

With New Democrats consistently leading the ruling B.C. Liberal party in polls, Cooey said that the new campaign aims to make sure that housing and poverty reduction don’t slip off the agenda of the provincial NDP.

The idea of a housing stand was inspired by the story of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers who stood in a central plaza in Buenos Aires, Argentina, hoping to find their children who were kidnapped and believed murdered during the so-called Dirty War reign of a military dictatorship in that country in the 1970s and ’80s.

Here in Vancouver, the first housing stand started at 33rd Avenue and Main Street in October 2007 as a silent protest over the then-impending demolition of the city’s oldest social-housing project, Little Mountain. Housing stands eventually spread across the province. On one Saturday, these numbered 75, according to Cooey. Most of Little Mountain’s 224 housing units were torn down in November 2009 to make way for a condo development.

Ivan Drury, an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project, noted that a coalition is being established to advocate for social housing in next year’s provincial election.

“The provincial government has the capacity and a history of building social housing,” Drury told the Straight by phone. In September, Drury and Downtown Eastside activist Jean Swanson outlined two demands in their invitation to various groups for the first meeting of the social-housing coalition.

One is for the province to build at least 2,000 units of social housing in Vancouver and an additional 1,000 units across the province every year. The second is the implementation of provincial and municipal rent controls on privately owned rental housing.

In a report in February this year, the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, a coalition of government and community organizations, highlighted the two most frequently cited barriers to housing by homeless people: low income and high rent.

According to the B.C. Housing website, the provincial government, since 2001, has committed itself to building more than 20,000 new housing units. More than half of these units have been completed. It has also allotted at least $520 million for this initiative, according to the housing agency. The province has partnered with eight municipalities to deliver on its housing commitment.

For Cooey, the beauty of a housing stand is that it doesn’t need a lot of people to be effective. “People do it every week or every other week,” he said. “You do it only on intersections where there’s quite a bit of traffic, so people become aware of them.”

Comments (9) Add New Comment
Terrible Tim
How come the people who complain about public housing never actually build anything themselves?

Instead of wasting their time attacking other people, why don't they get it together and build something themselves? Make a deal with the City, and get the land for a dollar. Actually build housing, and achieve something real.

Build it as a co-op. Organize it as a non-profit. Build what they want, down to the doorknobs.

If these perennial protesters actually built something, they would learn how to assemble land, negotiate with a credit union & BC Housing and raise capital. Design buildings, overcome local opposition, hire contractors, get the permits and rezonings -- and get the damn job done.

Co-ops have been doing this sort of thing for decades.

Time for the complainers in the DTES to step up to the plate, and do the job themselves. At the end of the day, they will have accomplished something real. Right now? It's just more whining.


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MikeDTES
Okay Terrible Tim, I'll rise to your challenge, if you commit to assisting.
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kim hearty
This was a lot of fun! So many passers-by already understood the importance of social housing and the necessity of collective action, while many more were receptive to the idea. Right-wing libertarian trolls aren't so well-represented on the ground!

The coalition is demanding that the province build *10,000* units of social housing per year, enforce real rent control and recognize tenants' rights to unionize and bargain collectively, among other things. Check out their website at http://socialhousingbc.wordpress.com for more info.

I look forward to many more Saturdays at Main and Broadway with the Vancouver Renters Union!
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Terrible Tim
Mike -- of course. I have built housing. It is so much more constructive than just whining and complaining all the time. Use the co-op model. We have built more than FOURTEEN THOUSAND units of co-op housing in BC. 14,000.

Get in touch with the BC Co-operative Association. Organize a legal co-op. Develop a prospectus, naming and describing how many units you want to build. Together with advisors from the BCCA, then go to Vancity, or Coast Capital.

Make a $ proposal. Make sure the numbers add up. At the same time, go to the City and acquire land for $1.00. They have 14 sites available. Then, go to BC Housing. Get an officer assigned to your portfolio, and organize a package that sees BCCA help matched with credit union and BC Housing money. Forget the feds. They're hopeless.

When the professional complainers in the DTES get organized, you will discover that they are respected -- perhaps for the first time.

Why do they even WANT the government to do everything for them? Surely they are not lazy.

It is ALWAYS best when people organize co-operatively to build their own housing. Such co-op housing will look like what YOU want, at a price YOU can afford, according to standards that YOU set.

Anything else leaves you the prisoners of bureaucracy and politicians.

Go for it! Build your own housing co-op. "Demanding" that the province build 10,000 units a year is childish. Ridiculous. Pointless. And damn LAZY.

Build it yourselves! Only then will you get what you want, and need. Good luck!

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Diamond Dan
Hey Tim,

When was the last time new co-op housing was built in Vancouver?

- DD
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Terrible Tim
Hey Diamond D. The City maintains a list, as does the Co-op Housing Association.

The last projects opened ten years ago: the two Lore Krill housing co-ops, providing 97 and 106 units respectively. Another is in the early planning stages right now, in the outer Victoria/Fraserview district, I believe. The one we're starting is in Surrey.

Perhaps what you're really saying is, "A co-op is too much work. The government should just give us free housing. As much as we demand." If so, you're in for a big disappointment.

But if you're actually serious about the problem, then the secret is this: get free land. Get one of the 14 sites owned by the City. Do an inventory of available provincial and federal land. There's more than you think. Find out if churches or community groups have land surplus to their needs, and make an offer.

Never be afraid of hard work, Dan.

At the end of the process you will have created a REAL community. It will have been designed and built by its own people. The motive will not have been profit, or politics. The motive will have been people.

Don't be afraid of hard work, Dan. At the end of the day, the reward is incredible.
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Martin Dunphy
To cut to the chase, Dan: 10 years.
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Bob Neubauer
Christ, Tim you truly are a sanctimonious, patronizing little shit, aren't you?
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Rolf Auer
To Terrible Tim: who is "they"? And who are you?
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