Downtown Eastside housing advocates are calling for better protection for low-income housing following allegations of eviction threats at a single-room occupancy building on Powell Street.
At a news conference today (August 22) across from the York Rooms, Downtown Eastside advocate Wendy Pedersen told reporters that seven residents were recently evicted from the building, and that tenants have reported facing harrassment and intimidation at the property.
“He [the manager]…gives people verbal warnings about evictions, so people are constantly feeling like they’re walking on eggshells around him,” said Pedersen.
Geoffrey Howes, a spokesperson for Living Balance, the company that manages the SRO building, told reporters that there is “absolutely no truth” to the claim that the company is evicting people.
“We’re trying to create safe, secure housing,” he said. “The average rent in there is between $425 and $475. There are some units that are in there that are $370.”
DJ Larkin, a housing lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, urged the City of Vancouver to ensure that low-income tenants are protected.
“Today, the city needs to come and investigate what it happening,” she told reporters. “They need to protect low-income residents in this building, who have the right to stay here.”
Larkin wants to see the city use its SRO task force to ensure tenants aren’t being intimidated or illegally evicted from low-income housing. She also wants to see the city’s SRO-conversion bylaw updated to specifically define SROs as low-income housing.
“The city has a bylaw that is supposed to protect against the conversion of SRO hotels like this,” she said. “It’s not working. Landlords and landowners and developers understand how to get around that bylaw.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang pointed to the amount that people on welfare receive for rent each month as the “real issue”.
“When you look at the stats, there has been only one increase from the province on welfare housing rates since 1992, and that was for $50,” he said in a phone interview. “We’ve said this many times, that there needs to be a way of increasing rents for people who can’t afford housing.”
Howes said that the company has lost three building caretakers during the last three months “because we had rampant drug dealing in the building itself”.
“The reason that people are leaving this property is because they don’t want to live in an environment where…drug dealers are actually taking over the entire space,” he emphasized.
Pedersen told reporters that a broader pattern of upgrades and increased rents in Downtown Eastside buildings are pricing housing out of reach for low-income tenants.
“Our homes are disappearing, there’s 7,000 people that live on welfare and disability in this community, there’s 3,000 people on old-age pension,” she said. “Where are they going to go?”
According to information distributed to media by Living Balance, which has managed 259 Powell Street since November 2011, rooms in the building are rented for between $370 and $600 per month, with the majority in the $425 to $475 range.
A Tumblr site promotes units in the York Rooms in a “character three story residential rooming house in Vancouver's down town east side”.