Tag Archives: Burnaby

ACORN Canada staff at YEYB in Quebec City!

Consolidating the Fight Against Housing Displacement in Canada

Quebec City    After a day of training and reports, the ACORN Canada organizing staff really got serious when the Year End / Year Begin meeting began no holds barred wrestling with campaigns.  The discussion was particularly intense around the dual crises of affordable housing, beyond the reach of many members, especially in the urban centers, and displacement of these same tenant families in these red-hot markets that have been well publicized in Toronto and Vancouver, but are equally problematic in Ottawa, Hamilton and other cities.

The platform for the discussion was the breakthrough victories in the western cities of Burnaby and New Westminster, abutting Vancouver.  As Vancouver has become increasingly unaffordable and the playground of the rich and foreign investors pushing prices past seven figures, pressure on prices and housing stock has led to speculation and displacement that we have termed “demovictions,” when tenants are evicted so that landlords and developers can demolish these three-story, ten apartment units to erect huge, towering apartment and condo towers.  In previous years’ meetings, the decade long campaign that had finally succeeded in winning landlord licensing and inspections with real penalties in Toronto had been the centerpiece topic.  ACORN groups in Ottawa and Hamilton had carried that campaign forward in those cities.  Now the debate centered on how to nationalize the victories in the west across Canada.

The victory in Burnaby had been long in coming as well, but was sweeping.  ACORN’s campaign and leaders had moved the city council to pass arguably the strongest tenant protections around displacement in North America.  When a qualifying building is scheduled for demolition and redevelopment under the new bylaw, the displaced tenants would be given a monthly rent top-off from the time they are moved out of their old unit, until they are moved back into the unit.  The rent supplement would be the area median rent plus 30%.  In 2019, that calculated to $1820 for a two-bedroom or $1545 for a one-bedroom, assuring the tenant of being able to successfully find alternative housing.  The real kicker is that once the redevelopment is completed, the tenant has the right to return to her old apartment at the same rent as when they left, coupling the scourge of displacement with what is effectively rent control.

This is great public policy.  The city doesn’t lose any affordable housing nor are tenants permanently displaced, even tough temporarily inconvenienced, the city gains more housing units, and despite all of their whining the developers make their money back and more from the new apartments they are adding.

Will it still lead to gentrification?  Yes, to some degree, since the new units, either rented or sold, will undoubtedly absorb the costs of the relocation and the retained affordable units.  Rents on those units will rise with inflation a couple of points per year, but low-and-moderate income families trying to move to Burnaby will be forced farther out to find affordable housing.  The only solution for that problem is the one that cities, provincial and national governments in Canada and around the world are still avoiding:  building more public housing.  The national housing policy envisions a rent subsidy for 300,000 families of up to $2500 per year, but that’s another story.

Nonetheless, ACORN Canada is clear.  This is what works.  Time to make the demands nationally, city to city, province to province.  These victories are benchmarks, so the stalling and excuses from city staffers and electeds won’t wash anymore.  There is a program that is winning, and a plan to make it work everywhere.

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Blocking Renovictions: A New Anti-Gentrification Tool

ACORN Canada rally in Burnaby

Frankfurt      New West, a low-and-moderate income family suburb abutting Vancouver, British Columbia, is becoming ground zero for new policies to prevent gentrification and displacement in Canada, and perhaps globally with the passage of its latest city bylaw.  With housing prices averaging over $1 million in Vancouver every city and town within commuting distance is a battleground between developers, landlords, and tenants trying to stay in their homes and close to work and families.

Not surprisingly, New West is also an ACORN redoubt and the longtime location of ACORN Canada’s office in British Columbia.  Several years ago, ACORN, working with the city council had won the first living wage ordinance in Canada.  Indexed to inflation, the hourly wage there is helping sustain working families and is still the standard nationally even as other cities like Toronto have followed suit.

New West, Burnaby, and other Vancouver suburbs has been free-fire zones for what are known as “demovictions.”  In those cases, long term tenants are being evicted when smaller units are demolished and new higher rise apartment and/or condo complexes replace previously affordable housing alternatives for our families.  As families are priced out of Vancouver, the fight with developers over their strategies has been intense.

The New West council, led by longtime ACORN ally, Jamie McEvoy, passed with our support a measure that penalizes “renovictions.”  Renovictions are the process of evicting tenants by jacking up rents past affordability for renovations, rather than demolitions.  The new bylaw would fine landlords $1000 per day if they either evict someone without proper notice or do not give them the right to return to their apartment at the same rent level as they paid before the renovation.  Additionally, New West would vacate the landlord’s license to rent in the city as well, if they are using renovictions to cast off tenants.  This action in New West would be a powerful tool to prevent displacement with real teeth.

Landlords and their friends are obviously crying like stuck pigs and claiming this will mean that landlords will lose any incentive to improve their apartments.  Many of these renovations are simply long overdue upgrades that tenants have also demanded and what would normally be expected would be a landlord’s responsibility to provide habitable units in return for the rent being paid, making renovictions and minor improvements simply a guise for huge rent increases.

Obviously, the fight is not over to maintain affordability and decent standards in New West, and we have certainly not heard the last from developers and landlords.  In the meantime, ACORN Canada is going into hyperdrive to get information about this new tool on the agenda for city councils in Ottawa, Toronto, and other communities where displacement and gentrification are going full stream.

Go ye and do likewise!

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Please enjoy  Extra-Ordinary by Lost Leaders.  Thanks to KABF.

 

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