Union, tenants act to make right to housing a reality in BC


VANCOUVER COULD USE A LITTLE JIMMY McMILLAN. Jimmy ran for mayor of New York City in 2005 and 2009 as the founder and leader of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party. He didn’t win, but the passion and outrage of his message then captures the way most renters in Vancouver feel now.

Rent for a one-room apartment in Vancouver has shot up to $2,220 a month on average—an 83% hike from what it was just three years ago. Many call it a “housing emergency.” A lasting solution remains elusive. But a rent freeze would offer some short term relief.

The rent is just ‘too damn high’

The BCGEU (British Columbia Government Employees Union) is all for a rent freeze. They’re promoting it with an all-out campaign calling on the provincial government to bring one in. The union rent freeze petition aims to get 15,000 signatures. They already have more than 12,700.

“We have as a province reached a breaking point and we need a break from the endless rent increases,” states the petition. ”Any more increases in rent will put many people at risk of losing their homes or forcing them to stay in bad living conditions because they have nowhere else to turn.”

A strong public push for a rent freeze in 2018 worked. The union believes an equal effort now will result in another legislated rent freeze.

Just buying time

A rent freeze will not fix the housing emergency in BC. The BCGEU believes a real,  lasting fix will only come with more investment from the provincial government to boost housing and infrastructure; along with steps to curb profit-making by speculators, which has helped drive rent prices to record highs.

The province’s exorbitant rents have forced tens of thousands to leave their homes. Statistics Canada figures show 10 percent of BC renters who moved over the past five years were forced into it because their rents got too high. This means 80,000 renters have been forced out of their homes.

Landlords in Vancouver lust to cash in on the sky high rents they can get. But laws control how much then can increase rents. One way landlords use to get around the law is called “renoviction.”

If a landlord makes “renovations” to his property, there is almost no limit on how much he can increase the rent—often well over 10%. Tenants are left to pay up or get out. Either way the landlord gets his higher rent.

Tenants take action

“When you’re getting evicted from your building and you’re not allowed to come back because the new rent is too expensive, the message that that sends is that this neighbourhood is not for you, this building’s not for you, you don’t belong here because you’re poor,” explains Sara Sagaii, a steering committee member of the Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU).

Charles Leduc, wrote a letter to the Vancouver Sun explained how it worked in his neighbourhood. “First of all, many of the high-end condo projects were marketed directly to wealthy investors, which immediately shut out local middle-income earners such as myself. In the meantime, single-family lots worth half a million saw their value skyrocket to $5 million in about a decade.”

Real Rent Control BC is a VTU campaign calling for the BC government to bring back Vacancy Control: a law that would not allow landlords to raise the rent when tenants move out or are evicted. The VTU calls it ”a simple fix that would protect affordability, fight poverty, and end renovictions!”

The VTU is also calling for a new regulation to be brought in that would give renters the right of first refusal. This would allow renters the option to return to their apartment at the same rent as before after any works are complete.

Housing is a human right

Prime minister Justin Trudeau declared housing a universal human right in Canada in December 2017. The BCGEU agrees and has a comprehensive plan to make that right a lived reality for people in BC.

The union plan takes as a starting point the firm belief that renting or owning a house is “a basic condition of the social contract for working people in a democracy.”

“Workers and residents need a new system that restores fairness, stability and security to our housing market and to the real estate transactions that shape it,” states the BCGEU plan.

The union plan calls for many reforms and changes including: overhauling the property tax system to curb speculative profit-making and raise funds for building affordable public housing; and the closing of the many loopholes in the Residential Tenancy Act that favour landlords.



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