“Everything for the upper class, nothing for us”: Barrie’s eviction and the gentrification of Whalley
Two weeks ago, Barrie came to his first meeting of the Whalley Street Council, a group of unhoused and underhoused community leaders that meet weekly to manage the Whalley People’s Resource Centre and organize community survival struggles. He brought his story with him.
Barrie has been struggling to stay in his home near King George Boulevard since he received an eviction notice in November. As of February, he still has nowhere to go.
Through the Whalley Street Council, Barrie connected with the Eviction Defence Network (EDN). Since we formed in May 2020, we’ve been helping tenants across Metro Vancouver fight against landlord abuse, neglect, and displacement.
Barrie is not a lone renter with the bad luck of having his landlord take over his unit; we see the tentacles of city-organized gentrification running throughout his story. Over the last six months, EDN has stepped in to support tenants in seven different buildings within ten blocks of Barrie’s apartment to resist displacement. Barrie’s home is the latest on Surrey’s chopping block.
Building sold, eviction ahead
Barrie’s building has deteriorated through the years as a result of neglect by the previous landlord. “She was a slumlord,” Barrie explained. “But it was still great back then, until she sold the building and all shit broke loose. The new owners bought the building off of her in September. That’s when they gave us the eviction notices.”
When the residents first received their notice to end tenancy for landlord’s use of property, everyone moved out except Barrie. “My neighbour lived in this building for 13 years. He left, like the two Korean churches that were downstairs.” Barrie has been looking for a place but says that it has been difficult. “It’s really hard to find something. I’ll go wherever, but I have my two cats.”
Barrie sees the issue he faces clearly: “They’re building all these apartments for the upper class, nothing for us. I’m a thorn in their side.” While Barrie’s eviction is not directly caused by a major condo development, the new landlord’s eviction of the building is because of the overall climate of real estate investment and development in Surrey’s development of a “city centre.” And, for Barrie, the result is the same. When tenants lose their homes under the shadow of gentrification, they struggle to afford another suite in their neighbourhood because the climate of investment and redevelopment that drove them out has closed down low-income affordable buildings everywhere.
“All this silver talk”
The City Centre Plan was introduced in Surrey in 2017, targeting Whalley as part of a new “cosmopolitan downtown.” The Plan rezoned the neighbourhood for higher-density development in an effort to attract developers, bring young professionals into the area, and drive out the working class and Indigenous community, including low-income renters and unhoused people, who call Whalley home. Barrie pays $690 for a one-bedroom apartment. If he was to move out, he would have to pay double this price.
Barrie looked to various “community resources” for help. The responses from these non-profit services organizations were all the same. “They told me I had no chance,” he recalled. “Aren’t they supposed to help?”
The legal advocate assigned to his case at Sources Community Resource Centre kept him in the dark regarding his own case before asking him to sign a document. “I thought he was on my side until he got me to sign that paper, the mutual agreement to end tenancy. That’s when I realized he wasn’t on my side,” Barrie explained. “He’s got all this silver talk, acts like he’s better than you. I hate that.”
Overlooked by the very advocate he turned to for help, Barrie faced intensifying pressure from his landlord without the support he needed. “They threaten me with bailiffs and sheriffs, tell me I better get the fuck out,” he described. Since his first eviction notice, the landlord has allowed the building to deteriorate further.
On January 5th, part of the ceiling in his bedroom collapsed when the roof caved in. “There was vermiculite all over my stuff. I had to clean it up before my cats ate it.” But better to stay inside than face the cold. “I used to live on the streets, no fucking way, never again. I don’t want to live in my van. I need a home for me and my cats. Period,” Barrie explained as his cat Mitsy kneaded the couch beside him.
Reimagine a radical tenant movement
Barrie’s situation was desperate by the time the Eviction Defence Network met him. It was months past his eviction notice, with the constant threat of bailiffs and police displacement hanging over him. All the non-profit organizations he had reached out to said it would be impossible to win, that the fight was over before it even began.
We don’t want to lie. Barrie is on the brink of losing his home. Legal recourses, already limited, are long gone. Evictions for landlord’s use of property are difficult to fight without good proof that the owner is lying about the reason for the eviction.
But what if we imagine a world where no one is evicted to the streets? We don’t have the power to stop every eviction right now. But we can build that power. Fighting every eviction, particularly those fights that are not legally “winnable,” can build the consciousness and organization of working class people because those fights depend not on state-mediated tenancy contracts but demand militant self activity that breaks past the limits imposed by Canada’s regime of property rights. Such self-activity translates into collective power.
From this perspective, the struggle doesn’t end with any single eviction. The crucial work is organizing low-income housed and unhoused people as a united force: a defensive force against displacement, and an aggressive political force against landlords, police, and government. Landlords are our particular enemies, but our task is to attack their power as a group, not just fight them one by one. Police are the physical force, or threat of force, that throws us to the streets. We should see the fight to abolish the police as part of our struggle. City Halls are another major site of this struggle, because they set zoning laws and organize gentrification.
Taken altogether Barrie’s experience points to the interconnected character of tenant struggle, all under the banner of colonial land theft and capitalist profit-seeking that converts all things into commodities for the rich. His story shows that we need strong, militant, organized tenant movements based in the very same communities facing displacement. When Barrie attended the Whalley Street Council meeting, he took the first step to join his neighbours and friends from the streets, shelters, supportive housing, and run-down market housing, living under the daily threat of eviction, all organizing together for collective survival.