Vancouver activists make a peaceful "housing stand"
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.”