SRO Collaborative launches in the Downtown Eastside: By Wendy Pedersen and Chanel Ly
A Tenant Convention, SRO School, organizing “class action” suits to get repairs done, Youth for Chinese Seniors, and Video Voices of SRO tenants – these are some programs that the newly forming SRO Collaborative is taking on in its first year.
The Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative works to improve habitability and prevent renovictions in Single-Room Occupancy hotels in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. Our strategy is to start organizing within the worst of the worst – the privately-owned SROs. Modelled after the SRO Collaboratives in San Francisco, we hope to help build a stronger renters rights movement here. We have some funding from Atira Development Society to get this project going in 2015. If this project is useful to SRO tenants, we will continue to develop it.
Since January, the Collaborative helped tenants advocate for renters rights and improved habitability at the West Hotel (488 Carrall Street). We helped tenants win a significant case against Community Builders Society, who is managing this building under their “transitional housing program.” We challenged them at the “housing court”, or the Residential Tenancy Branch, to uphold tenant’s legal rights under the Residential Tenancy Act. With our advocacy and being spotlighted in the media, the building is being repaired and has turned a corner. West Hotel tenants are feeling much safer and happier.
The Collaborative is hopeful that similar victories can be achieved with SRO tenants in other hotels. We are beginning to address urgent safety and habitability issues at the Regent Hotel, one of the top 3 winners of the Crummiest Cockroach Haven Contest at our first SRO Tenant Convention last October. Regent residents and volunteers have collected an overwhelming list of problems. At the Clifton and Lion Hotels, the Collaborative is putting pressure on the owners to stop renovictions and take responsibility for repairs.
SRO tenants need to be prepared for potential “slow” evictions related to renovations and huge rent hikes, which we have seen in about twenty other SROs in the area. The Collaborative is hiring four Tenant Reps to get trained to work on problems in their SROs. One of our reps will be from the Empress Hotel, which just sold for a shocking $7.7 million.
Chinese Community Organizing
As one of the founding communities of the Downtown Eastside, the low-income Chinese people are severely underserved due to language inaccessibility. We are working to bring the Chinese community together to address housing issues.
SRO School for hotel tenants to learn about community organizing is just around the corner. This 10-week workshop series includes: canvassing and door-knocking, facilitating meetings, leadership skills, identifying maintenance problems, writing effective letters to landlords, asking for City Hall inspections, and attending “housing court” or Residential Tenancy Arbitrations. Tenant Reps will also learn how to defend themselves from landlord threats, connect tenants to social services, work within an anti-oppression framework, and self-defence. For more information about these workshops, please drop by to visit the Tenant Action Group on Saturdays at noon at 253 East Hastings.
Do you speak Mandarin and/or Cantonese? We are looking for multilingual youth volunteers who want to support the Youth for Chinese Seniors Program. Volunteers will shape the project’s first year and beyond, reaching out to Chinese seniors and families living in low-income housing in the Downtown Eastside. Volunteer applications can be found here
We are also supporting four SRO tenants to work with an Indigenous filmmaker to document the stories of SRO tenants with our Video Voices of SRO Tenants program. The public will be invited to the community screening at SFU Woodward’s in the fall.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-646-8585.