Jean Swanson: Close-up look at who runs Vancouver City Hall

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Who runs the city? I got a good look at a recent Vancouver city council session.

      City staff had recommended that council approve—at its November 26 meeting—a grant to Landlord B.C., a landlord lobby group, to administer an energy retrofit program for older apartment buildings that would make this critical rental stock better for the environment while keeping existing tenants in place.

      Living in the demoviction and renoviction capital of Canada, I appreciate the importance of these kinds of renovations. Even though I wasn’t keen on the program being administered by a landlord lobby group, I decided I’d vote in favour if the city could ensure that rents in the renovated apartments would remain affordable.

      I thought this was a pretty reasonable deal. You get some government money. You put in some of your own. You do some environmentally good renos that prolong the life of the buildings. And you keep rents affordable. Surely, affordable rents should be a condition of getting government subsidies, especially in the midst of a housing crisis, I thought.

      B.C.’s rent control laws apply only to existing tenants. When a new tenant moves in, landlords can increase their rents as high as the market will bear. My fear was, and still is, that landlords of renovated buildings will have a profit incentive to evict their current tenants using one excuse or another.

      So I proposed an amendment to the staff recommendation calling for buildings that got grants to have vacancy control. That is, the rent controls are applied to the unit, not the tenant, so landlords can’t raise the rent as much as they want.

      There used to be a federal program that did this. It was called the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, and it provided money to landlords to upgrade single-room-occupancy hotels in exchange for rent control.  So there was even a precedent for what I proposed.

      To my surprise, my amendment passed.

      A few minutes later, all the councillors received another surprise—an email from Landlord B.C. saying that if my amendment stood, they wouldn’t participate in the program.

      A few minutes after that, Coun. Lisa Dominato said in light of the email, she wanted to rescind my amendment. Though Coun. Pete Fry argued that vacancy control would provide security for tenants and was consistent with the goals of the publicly funded program, and I uged council to find another body to administer the program, my amendment couldn’t be saved.

      I think it’s good for government to be responsive, but responsive to residents in need, not corporate lobby groups. I dream how nice it would be if council got an email from the homeless living in tents in Oppenheimer Park saying they need a warm place to live. Then, within an hour, council would vote to allocate the money to move them into warm and secure homes,

      Literally a few minutes after Landlord B.C. complained, the mayor and council changed a vote to do what the landlord lobby wanted. You can watch it all unfold in the video below.

      Video: Vancouver council reverses its position in response to an email from Landlord B.C.