Jean Swanson: People’s Summit looks to identify causes, find solutions to city’s housing emergency

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      Eight renters stand in front of a development permit sign to have their picture taken. The apartment building owner wants to demolish their home to build three condos. They’ve sent the picture to me and the other city councillors along with heartrending stories of why they want and need to stay in their apartments and in their community.

      Another picture shows an elderly woman sleeping in her home with her cat on her shoulder. A video is made about 64 seniors facing demoviction, with a close up of hands, hands that help each other by knocking on walls if there is trouble. They made the video themselves to help plead their case for not being renovicted.

      Folks at the tent city in Oppenheimer Park call my city cellphone: “It’s snowing, Jean, what can you do to help us?”

      Or “The cops are coming again.” 

      Or, “They put up a fence. If they kick us out where can we go?” 

      I was invited to meet with a group of young people last week. One woman told me she had moved five times in the last six months. Another said that when a neighbour moved out of an apartment in her building, the new renter has to pay $700 more per month.  

      The situation is so desperate that tenants don’t know where else to turn. The signs are that things are only going to get worse. Real estate ads for the sale of apartment buildings openly state that if the new owner gets rid of the current tenants, they’ll be able to raise the rents as much as they like. One ad says “Significant upside in rents with tenant turnover.”  

      In this example, one-bedroom apartments rent for $1,091, but if the landlord can get rid of the current tenant, rents could go up to $2,000 or more.

      In the seven months that I’ve been on city council, we haven’t approved even one housing unit that people who are homeless or people earning under $30,000 a year can afford, even though they make up 32 percent of all renters. Of the almost 1,000 units of new housing that we approved, more than 800 are for households who earn over $60,000 per year.

      Housing did get built for the homeless. The province is to be congratulated for building 600 units of modular housing in Vancouver this year and last, but there are only 200 units in their budget for this next year—for the whole province, even though more than 7,000 people have been counted as homeless.

      The federal government offered Vancouver $150,000 for modular housing and another $150,000 for a proposed woman-led housing project in Hastings-Sunrise. That’s a drop in the bucket when compared to the $1.2 billion allocated for housing in Toronto.  

      During this time, things haven’t improved much for tenants either. The province’s Rental Housing Task Force refused to endorse vacancy control, which would prevent landlords from raising rents as much as they like when tenants move.

      This one regulation would take the profit motive out of eviction, keep rents lower, and improve tenant security while costing the government virtually nothing. 

      And, of course, average rents are sky high. According to Padmapper, it’s now $2,100 a month for a one bedroom. If you’re earning the minimum wage of $13.85, you may have enough, after taxes, to pay your rent—but only if you don’t eat or do anything else.  

      Video: Watch a teaser for the film V6A about the most pressing issues in the Downtown Eastside.

      More than 50 percent of Vancouver residents are now tenants and that number is growing. According to the city, 76 percent of new households are renters. That means that governments need to make sure that rental housing is secure, affordable, and plentiful.   

      Given Vancouver’s experience over the past 10 years, we can say with certainty that profit-seeking developers don’t build housing for people with incomes under $75,000 a year.  

      To get reasonable and affordable housing built, it’s going to take government action. What should the city be doing? What about the feds and province?

      More importantly, what can renters, people who are homeless, and everybody else affected by the housing emergency, do to get governments to implement our human right of decent affordable housing?

      Those are the questions that people from across the city will be asking at a Housing Emergency Summit on June 23rd from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Maritime Labour Centre (1880 Triumph Street). I’ll be speaking there and so will my fellow councillor, Christine Boyle.

      The summit is designed for participants to help identify the causes and solutions to Vancouver’s housing emergency. Initial sessions planned include:

      Session 1. Identifying systemic causes of Vancouver’s housing emergency that are similar to crises around the world: developer profit motives, commodification of housing, etc.

      Session 2. Protecting renters: a discussion of evictions, vacancy, and the need for rent control.

      Session 3. Solutions to the crisis: Taxing mansions and developers to build public housing; land-value capture, rental-only zoning, provincewide mobilization to end homelessness; and prioritizing housing for Indigenous people in Vancouver.

      Session 4. Plan for unity: how do we come together to get solutions implemented?

      This event is a people’s summit. It hopes to draw on the knowledge and experience of working people in the pursuit of a more just and equal housing system. The event aims to build unity and energy among working people, evictees, renters, community leaders, and activists, and mobilize the people of our city behind the goal of achieving real housing justice.

      V6A, a recently released film about the Downtown Eastside by young filmmaker Ruggerio Romano, will be screened for free at 4:00 p.m. at the Maritime Labour Centre (1880 Triumph Street) at the conclusion of the People's Summit. It takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Sunday (June 23).