Down with Displacement, Up with Decent Housing!

British Columbia’s Lower Mainland includes some of the most expensive places to live in occupied Canada. Of the 523 municipalities surveyed in the Canadian Rental Housing Index, Vancouver and Burnaby rank last, or close to last in measures of rental affordability and quality of rental units. [1] The lack of affordable housing for working class people has been termed the “housing crisis”. This crisis affects up to 116,000 people in BC alone. [2]

With the housing crisis deepening, activists have initiated a number of actions in the Lower Mainland to raise awareness about it. In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) have organized a “Tent City” since July 9. About 50-60 activists, including individuals who are homeless or are currently living in squalid conditions, have set up tents to occupy 58 West Hastings Street, a site currently owned by the municipal government. [3] “Tent Cities” have also been set up in Victoria and Abbotsford elsewhere in BC, and Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario.

Furthermore, there was currently an occupation of an apartment, acquired by the developer Amacon, at 5025 Imperial Street in Burnaby, by the Alliance Against Displacement. Tenants in this block of apartments are among an estimated 1,400 people in the low-income Metrotown neighbourhood facing the threat of “demoviction”. Apartment buildings with affordable housing units will be demolished so that expensive condos get built in their place. [4, 5] The occupation started on July 9, and as of the morning of July 20, the RCMP have carried out the court injunction to remove the protestors from the site of occupation. [6]

The Revolutionary Student Movement-Vancouver section, extends our solidarity with the “Tent City” in Vancouver and the occupation in Burnaby. We believe that decent, affordable housing for working-class people is a vital necessity, and as such, resolutely support their demands. We commend both occupations for highlighting how the housing crisis affects some of the most vulnerable sectors of capitalist society. We also commend the actions for highlighting the inaction that “progressive” municipal governments in Vancouver and Burnaby, led by Gregor Robertson and Derek Corrigan respectively, have taken in addressing the housing crisis.

The Homelessness Crisis

At its most visible level, the housing crisis includes the 11,000 people in BC who live on the streets. Although Robertson was elected on a promise to wipe out street homelessness in Vancouver by 2015, there are 1847 people who live on the streets in Vancouver in 2016, the highest in a decade. [7] These figures do not include the 40,000 people who are “hidden homeless” in BC and who get by through living in cars or couch-surfing. As the crisis of homelessness has gotten worse, some cities such as Burnaby and Surrey do not even have homeless shelters, and the number of empty units in Vancouver now exceeds the estimated homeless population. [8, 24]

Some of the most vulnerable sectors of the proletariat, or working-class, are at risk of street homeless. We are appalled when migrants, and indigenous people disproportionately face homelessness and housing insecurity. It is estimated that even although 4% of the Lower Mainland’s population are indigenous, they represent over 30% of the homeless population [2]. When migrants, including refugees, and indigenous people do not have access to basic needs, this highlights the continuing racist, colonial, and white-supremacist nature of the Canadian State. Next, women and other gender oppressed people who are homeless face a vicious cycle. They often need to choose between facing physical and sexual abuse from an abusive partner, or going homeless; and while homeless, they sometimes need to return to an abusive partner for financial support, so they can afford fines just for being homeless! [3, 9] Finally, we are concerned when up to 1 in 5 homeless youths identify as LGBTQ2S and when the number of homeless youth is growing. [2, 10] We are appalled especially when homeless youth face unnecessary stress and abuse as they try to get an education or enter the workforce. [10, 11]

The Gentrification of Proletarian Neighbourhoods

13718521_10205350418759957_4339080494318765082_nThe housing crisis also includes up to 65,000 individuals in BC who spend more than 50% on their income on rent, and who often live in substandard, cramped conditions. These individuals are considered at risk of homelessness since housing is considered affordable if it uses 30% of a person’s total income [2]. Housing insecurity, however, does not come out of nowhere. The continuing displacement working-class communities experience in Vancouver and Burnaby is because of policies of gentrification set out by Robertson and Corrigan’s “progressive” governments. These policies are often framed as benign “densification” plans.

In principle, more housing is a good thing, but in reality, building more housing actually displaces low-income residents when they are not able to afford the new housing which is being built. In Metrotown alone, tenants on average would need to pay 25% more in rent than they currently do under Corrigan’s “Downtown Metrotown” plan, yet over half of the tenants in Metrotown cannot afford to pay their existing rents! [3] The same fears of being “priced out” of their own communities are being expressed by tenants in nearby Joyce-Collingwood. [13]

In the Downtown Eastside, including Chinatown, the Robertson government has advocated “social mix” for new developments in these neighbourhoods. “Social mix” means any new developments would include both social housing and “market-price” housing. However, few social housing units in practice would be developed. For instance, a new development at 105 Keefer Street would only include 25 social housing units compared with 102 “market-price” units, at a time when 3,000 Chinese seniors are in need of affordable housing. [14, 15] Next, “social mix” is a policy of segregation. Low-income residents face additional policing, and have separate amenities from higher-income residents, although both live in the same building.  Most importantly, “social mix” destroys more affordable housing than it creates. A net 279 units of low-income housing were lost during the development of the Woodward’s building, one of the first buildings in Vancouver with a “social mix”. [16]  Policies of “social mix” offer no permanent solution to thousands of individuals who have waited years for decent housing, and in the meantime, have lived in cockroach, bedbug-infested, and unaffordable SROs without a shed of privacy. [113606803_10205315895976909_4803548621804326757_n2] It is an absolute shame when these policies destroy the fabric of proletarian neighbourhoods.

The Housing Crisis at Universities

As many working-class students now attend universities, the housing crisis also affects them and extends on campus. There is a lack of affordable housing for students whether housing is on or off campus. Indeed, more than 6000 students are now on the waiting list to access residences at UBC at a time when residence fees are getting more expensive. [21] In 2015, students at UBC protested a 30% increase in residence fees as part of the “I Am A Student” movement. A dormitory at UBC can now cost over $1000 per month [17] at a time when the average student makes only about $750/month (unadjusted for inflation) [18]. This means that students often need to work 2-3 jobs, even during the school year, to make ends meet and to pay for tuition.

To make matters worse, universities do not make developing affordable housing a priority but instead choose to destroy units of affordable housing! Earlier this year, tenants at the SFU’s Louis Riel House, which included 60 units of affordable housing for low-income students, students with families, single mothers, and First Nations students, were evicted. SFU had willfully neglected the condition of the building over its lifetime, and does not have a plan to rehouse all students who were evicted. SFU plans to close down an additional 210 units of affordable student housing. [19] The closure of affordable housing for students with families has also happened at UBC with the closure of the Acadia Courts in 2012. [20] It is shameful when universities choose profit-making from developing projects such as Wesbrook Village and UniveriCity at a time when many students are in need of affordable housing.

Our Demands

Once again, we are glad that a genuine proletarian movement has emerged to struggle for housing justice when until now, “taxpayers” and “homebuyers” have dominated this conversation. We are glad to see militant struggle against landlords and developers who take advantage of oppressed peoples, and action against governments who do not listen to proletarian communities. [3, 13, 14] We see the struggle for housing justice as part of the wider struggle for socialism since capitalism is the root of oppression for proletarian communities. Power needs to be directly in the hands of proletarian communities so that gains for housing justice are made permanent.

 In solidarity with the demands made by the “Tent City” and the occupation at Metrotown [3, 22, 23], we demand the following:

  • Stop the gentrification!: Declare an immediate moratorium on all new “demovictions” and new expensive housing developments in proletarian neighbourhoods.
  • Social housing now!: Build 100% social and affordable housing on government-owned lands in all proletarian neighbourhoods, including the site at 58 West Hastings Street, and university-owned lands for proletarian students.
  • Stop the displacement!: Rehouse all students living at Louis Riel House evicted by SFU, and all tenants evicted by current or future “demovictions”.
  • Rent control laws!: Enact rent control laws, which also apply to dormitories, to ensure housing is affordable for working-class tenants and students in the long term.
  • Homes not jails!: Divert $5 billion dollars from the federal prison, military, police, immigration enforcement budgets, and subsidies to Canadian mining companies committing dubious acts abroad, to support affordable and safe housing for the people!

We finally encourage all proletarian and politicized students raise awareness about the housing crisis and to support both the “Tent City” and the occupation in Burnaby. To support these actions, students can:

  1. Sign VANDU’s online petition, linked here, to support the “Tent City”’s demands in resolving the housing crisis.
  2. Donate supplies to Vancouver’s “Tent City” or support it financially. A list of supplies which the “Tent City” needs is here, and a site where financial contributions can be made is here.
  3. Follow the “Alliance Against Displacement” on Facebook and Twitter for latest updates about future mobilizations in Burnaby and other information about their campaign.
  4. Share this statement, the demands of housing justice campaigns, and other news items on housing justice on social media.

Homes not jails!

Our homes can’t wait!

Affordable housing is a right. What do we do? Unite and fight!

References:

  1. http://rentalhousingindex.ca/pdf/Ranked-Indicator-Scores.pdf
  2. http://www.socialhousingbc.com/
  3. http://thevolcano.org/2016/07/13/were-not-going-home-and-were-not-giving-up/
  4. http://www.burnabynow.com/news/update-housing-activists-occupy-vacant-building-1.2300122
  5. http://www.stopdisplacement.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Dunblane-Demovictions-Report_Spring2016-1.pdf
  6. https://twitter.com/stopdisplacemnt
  7. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/homeless-create-new-tent-city-to-protest-vancouvers-social-housing/article30898440/
  8. http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/10/28/Burnaby-Surrey-Shirk-Homeless-Responsibility/
  9. http://www.wavaw.ca/talking-the-talk-vancouvers-homeless-count/
  10. http://blogs.ubc.ca/gayandhomeless/files/2011/07/BetweentheCracks2002.pdf
  11. https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2015/06/09/foreign-whiz-kid-endured-homelessness-to-graduate-top-of-class-at-u-of-t.html
  12. https://raisetherates.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/2015report.pdf
  13. https://joyceareara.wordpress.com/
  14. http://www.vancouversun.com/business/controversial+chinatown+proposal+rejigged/11438334/story.html
  15. http://thevolcano.org/2016/02/04/our-generations-fight-for-chinatown/
  16. https://ccapvancouver.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/ww_gent/
  17. http://vancouver.housing.ubc.ca/applications/fees-payments/
  18. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2010109/pdf/11341-eng.pdf
  19. https://lrhcommunity.wordpress.com/about/our-declaration/
  20. http://ubyssey.ca/news/acadia-courts-relocation-876/
  21. http://www.theprovince.com/news/housing+waiting+list+names+long+would+month+square+feet/11736766/story.html
  22. https://tentcityvancouver.wordpress.com/
  23. https://ccapvancouver.wordpress.com/ourhomescantwait/
  24. http://www.straight.com/news/653356/empty-homes-study-reveals-10000-vacant-condos-still-fails-explain-vancouver-real-estate

Images taken by ILPS Canada and author.

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