Jean Swanson: We stopped the 4.5 percent rent increase, and this is just the beginning

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      Two-and-a-half weeks ago the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch said that the maximum allowable rent increase would rise from 4 percent this year to 4.5 percent in 2019.

      But tenants were having none of it. Myself and other COPE candidates talked to renters across Vancouver, and they told us they were completely outraged by the rent hike.

      Part of the reason tenants are standing up is that they’re not alone anymore. COPE and other grassroots organizations are standing with them.

      Since last year’s Vancouver council by-election campaign, over 10,000 Vancouverites have signed the Rent Freeze petition. Organizations like the Vancouver Tenants Union and the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union have also been working to improve tenant protections and keep rents down. 

      Because of this movement, we won a first victory today. The provincial government announced that the maximum allowable annual rent increase will be reduced from 4.5 percent to 2.5 percent for 2019.

      The lesson is clear. When we build a movement, governments start to respond. But while cancelling the rent hike is a good first step, it’s just the beginning.

      COPE will keep fighting for a zero percent rent increase for four years in Vancouver. If the province won’t act, COPE city councillors will direct city staff to make a four-year Rent Freeze a requirement of landlord's business licenses.

      It’s also still a huge problem that the province is allowing landlords to raise rents as much as they like when tenants leave or are evicted. This loophole lets rents soar and it acts as an incentive to evict tenants—especially long-term tenants like seniors. If necessary, COPE will use the city’s business licensing powers to plug that loophole as well.

      We can also do more to stop renovictions and demovictions in their tracks. Landlords need city permits to renovate or demolish buildings, so the city can require that landlords allow tenants to return to renovated units at the same rent. This should be written into the city’s tenant relocation and protection by-laws.

      Finally, tenant protections don’t yet apply citywide. Last week city council voted to allow duplexes in large regions of Vancouver where tenant protections don’t apply. In some of these neighbourhoods, over 50 percent of residents are renters.

      This means that tens of thousands of tenants could be displaced to make room for $2-million duplexes, which most Vancouverites can’t afford. COPE will expand tenant protections to protect all renters in Vancouver. A tenant is a tenant is a tenant. 

      If we were able to stop the 4.5 percent rent increase even before the October 20th election, imagine what we can achieve together with COPE councillors inside city hall working with social movements.

      Don’t ever let anyone tell you we can’t win the city we need. We can, and we must.

      Jean Swanson is a Vancouver council candidate with the Coalition of Progressive Electors.

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