When it comes to housing, members of the Downtown Eastside community are being squeezed on all sides, leaving many with few or no reasonable options.
On one side are the ‘slumlords’ who leave buildings to rot and harass and abuse tenants. All the while, they are benefiting from rental income and rising property values.
Squeezing equally hard on the other side are the renovictors. They will tell you that they are helping to ‘clean up’ the neighbourhood. Make no mistake, they may be ‘cleaning’ the neighbourhood, but who are they ‘cleaning up’? – low-income residents, especially people on income assistance. These landlords will tell you that they are in the business of ‘making money’, not housing people.
Coming up the middle to squeeze residents is the City of Vancouver. They talk about ending homelessness, but in fact, they are relying on private landlords to provide ‘low-income’ housing without actually protecting units from being converted into expensive, market-rent spaces that residents on income assistance can no longer afford.
And crushing the neighbourhood from above is the provincial government. Not only do they refuse to raise shelter rates, they think the Residential Tenancy Act actually works to protect tenants. They are wrong. Residents facing wrongful eviction or living in terrible housing conditions are often denied justice. The Residential Tenancy Branch is known for making unfair and unpredictable decisions that do not protect tenants. Even when a tenant does get a good decision, you can spend years trying to collect from your landlord – as the residents of the Wonder and Palace hotels know all too well. Overall, the province is not supporting tenants or holding landlords accountable.
The law needs to change. Right now a great way for a landlord to line their pockets is to ignore regular maintenance and wait for a building to crumble until it becomes necessary to evict tenants to do renovations. Then they can raise the rent as much as they want.
We need to stop that pattern and force landlords to maintain properties. Those who don’t do regular maintenance should have to re-rent suites to their former tenants after a renoviction – at the same rent as before. Making landlords keep up maintenance and making renovictions less profitable will help ensure that landlords are actually in the business of providing housing, not simply making money. This goal is achievable, but only if residents are united in the cause.
So what can you do? You can stand together, organize and support each other. If each person tries to push back alone, these powerful forces will win, but together the neighbourhood is strong. When residents in a building join together, your stories support each other and you are far more effective at telling a landlord to respect your rights. There is no one betterthan DTES residents to show how the system is failing people and to stand up and demand better.
Here are two things you can do to keep the fight for housing justice moving:
- Talk to your neighbours and friends. Start organizing and building relationships in your building. Strong SRO tenant groups are key to making lasting change.
- Tell your story. Pivot Legal Society is taking statements from people who want to tell their story about being pushed out of or evicted from their homes so that landlords can raise the rent, who live in poorly maintained places or who are abused by their landlords. Come and visit us at the Carnegie Centre on Tuesday afternoons between 1:30-4pm (hosted by CCAP) or find us at the Vendors’ Market on Sundays (at the DNC table). We want to hear from you.
DJ Larkin is a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society. Her work focuses on housing justice.