The housing crisis in BC has many faces. It is most starkly visible in the homeless camps that have caught media attention in Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Abbotsford, Victoria, and elsewhere, where tents, make-shift structures and people in need of shelter fill public spaces and force confrontations with local property owners and municipal governments. But housing vulnerability and the experience of displacement takes many other forms as well. Upscale development in low-income and working class neighbourhoods (gentrification) creates housing for wealthier people, drives up property values and increases rents, pushing residents out of their homes and communities. Property owners force tenants to leave in order to renovate their buildings (renovation + eviction or renoviction), and afterwards raise rents to increase profits.
In Burnaby’s Metrotown area, affordable rental housing is being destroyed as developers buy up apartment buildings with plans to demolish them for high-rise condos. Metrotown is a racially, linguistically and culturally diverse neighbourhood, home to working-class families, pensioners and low-income people who are already struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly unaffordable housing market. They are being driven out of their homes and communities through the process of “demo-viction” (demolition + evictions), and replacement housing is completely unaffordable.
Burnaby City Hall has the power to declare a moratorium on apartment demolitions until the housing needs of working and low-income people in the area are met. Instead it is determined to support the interests of corporate real estate development and allow the processes of demo-viction and gentrification to unfold. While cities like Burnaby can’t solve the housing crisis alone, they can do their part to not make it worse. By supporting developer profits instead of the people who live in their region, they are furthering displacement and deepening the crisis.
What we need is federal and provincial governments that will build housing for low-income people and end poverty. People are vulnerable to displacement because senior levels of government have stopped building non-profit, social housing that lower wage-workers, people on welfare and disability, migrant and refugee families, and seniors on pensions can actually afford. Market solutions, like rent subsidies and developer incentives, won’t solve the crisis that the market creates. We need to protect affordable housing that currently exists and build new non-profit social housing that can shelter people from the storms of displacement.
The Stop Demo-victions campaign in Burnaby is an important front in this battle because working-class and low-income tenants in the walk-ups around Metrotown are not the usual-suspect victims of the housing crisis. The housing justice leadership of Metrotown-area residents can break the stereotypes that the media and government pretend hold the housing and homelessness crisis. Their leadership also raises new questions and challenges assumptions about so-called “affordable” market rental units as well as narrowly oriented, medicalized and institutional “supportive” social housing. None of these housing solutions advanced by the federal parties in the 2015 election or by most social service providers speaks to the housing crisis that most Metrotown tenants are experiencing.
The Alliance Against Displacement (formerly Social Housing Alliance) is organizing with Metrotown renters, along with the Metrotown Residents Association and ACORN-Burnaby, in order to expose the housing crisis as a social crisis that is not limited to a single area or affecting only a single social group. As the Stop Demo-victions campaign members march alongside others experiencing the housing crisis as they do, or in other ways, the movement for housing justice will become less isolated, stronger, and more able to push back against the market and state-supported forces of displacement, and fight for affordable, secure and dignified housing for all.