Daniela Elza: An open letter to Vancouver's mayor and city council over co-op lease renewals

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      Vancouver resident Daniela Elza wrote this open letter to Vancouver city council:

      This letter is in regards to the Co-op Lease Renewal report to be discussed tomorrow before Council on July 7th.

      I am a writer, teacher, and editor. I immigrated to Canada in 1999. I love what I do and where I live. However neither of these jobs are paid well enough to allow me to live in Vancouver, regardless of the fact that I have two Masters degrees and a Doctorate. Except, wait...I live in a Co-op! And that is the reason I have not yet left Vancouver or been rendered homeless.

      As a family we made decent money, but after my divorce, I was a single parent with two kids. When I speak in favour of co-op housing, I’m often treated as if I am not working hard enough to afford a house. As if it’s a developmental stage I have to go through to get to the finish line of owning a home. That’s condescending, but more importantly, it’s a myth that is important to promote in a culture which venerates private property.

      I chose not to own a house, after I realized that my house owned me; I’d become a slave to my property. We lived far from where we worked. Then I became a slave to high rent, in market rentals where community was near impossible to build. That’s how I came to False Creek Co-op.

      For a decade in the Co-op we paid the maximum housing charge. After my divorce I became a single mom, a single-income household, and was internally subsidized. The year that followed allowed me to get myself organized financially since I paid only half of my usual housing charge. I cried when I saw the notice of the decreased rent. So much had destabilized around me, but here was a place that was taking care of me when I needed it the most.

      Co-ops provide an essential service and the City should treat them as the essential service they are. They are invested with social capital and the city has no metric to account for in this report.

      In the proposed report, the City cannot make up its mind between being a landlord and being a steward: they acknowledge how valuable Co-ops are, then they go on to redefine them. They want to violate the co-op's integrity of mixed income membership, and they want to violate its independence.

      There is built in discrimination in this proposal: the most vulnerable in the coops (our elderly, our children, our single parents, our people with disabilities, and low to middle income families) will be affected disproportionately with the proposed forced rent increases that are artificially tying them to market rate rentals. I am sure this is not what you hope to accomplish. The manoeuvre this report is trying to pull off is akin to taking money from the poor to give to the poor. Robin Hood would have given better advice.

      If tying rent to market value works then by now we should have a lot of affordable housing. Do we? No. Why? Because it does not work.

      I have been reading for months and found:

      1. Building more market housing is NOT going to meet the need for housing of lower and middle income households.

      2. What the city calls affordable housing is NOT affordable. I recommend the detailed analysis done by UBC here. The data speaks for itself.

      3. When the city puts Co-ops under subsidized housing, it results in simplistic “subsidized” vs “market” divisions. This misinforms the public, it pits people against one other, which is dangerous, and becoming a liability.

      4. The City does not have a success story nor a model to base their report on to prove beyond a doubt that they can provide deeply affordable housing for those with low and very low incomes. Co-ops can. Our co-op builds inter-dependance + (remember that pesky thing) thousands of volunteer hours + social capital.

      Questions I have:

      Have they provided multi-generational housing for families and seniors of all ages? I have raised my kids in a connected and diverse community. Have you looked at the decreasing numbers of children in the city? Perhaps compare that to the growing number of dogs? Why? It’s easier to house dogs.

      Have they created environments that foster a sense of belonging? Co-ops do. They are places that welcome diverse populations across income, age, and able-bodied-ness. We know our neighbours, and can count on one another for assistance. We participate in decision making. There is way more transparency in our co-op management than we are getting from the City.

      Each of your meetings begin with an acknowledgement that we live on stolen lands. What does that acknowledgement mean to you? Would protecting these lands be a step forward?

      Housing is a right. Co-ops take that right seriously, on behalf of the city. Co-ops are an essential service that does not fit the model the city is working with. They provide secure housing, improved quality of life which contribute to wellbeing and good mental health. Each of us is supported through income fluctuations that are part of life.

      Oscar Wilde said: “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” We know the value of co-op living, the social capital that is the glue for the place. This allows for the mixed income community to thrive. Not just survive.

      The housing crisis has taken a long time to manufacture and we have watched this City be an accomplice. It will take a vision to solve. It cannot be solved with the blunt tools that manufactured it in the first place. You don’t get affordable housing by building more units of un-affordable housing. A system invested in profit-making and short-term thinking is not compatible with a vision. Non-profit housing pays for itself over time, if the land speculation is curbed, rent regulated. For every affordable housing unit built in BC three much more affordable units are destroyed.

      In the middle of a housing crisis the City is messing with the only affordable and family housing we have left. And trying to force co-ops to fit their models instead of understanding the successful model that co-ops offer. In this report the city is not taking care of the future generation. 

      I voted for many of you because of your commitment to equity and balancing the social needs of two thirds of Vancouver citizens. Mayor Kennedy Stewart you said you will not be afraid to let go of those creating roadblocks to housing action. We are seeing this battle playing out in this report before Council today.  As you put it—those who want to resolve the housing crisis and those who want to maximize value. Clearly we have a staff that is in conflict, and they have not much to show for the last 30 years on affordability.

      I encourage you to amend this report. Get rid of the whole of section B on page 1. And Recommendation B repeated in Appendix A, Section 3.  I urge you to adopt the CHF-BC lease calculation formula. Do not let how we set our rent have anything to do with the poorly managed rent situation that the city has orchestrated with no mechanism to control in an over inflated market. We have proof by doing it, they have no proof that they can do it.

      Perhaps the City has such a hard time wrapping their head around the idea of co-op housing because we have a vision, and they don’t feel they need one. Don’t break what works. Learn from it.  This report exhibits moral and ethical poverty, which we have to question.

      Sincerely, Daniela Elza