Several non-profit organizations across Vancouver have received eviction notices this month. Evictions include COPE in Chinatown, VIVO Media Arts in Mount Pleasant, Spartacus Books in Strathcona and The Junction in Gastown. The high-profile evictions point to the deteriorating security of tenure for renters in Vancouver, including non-profits and cultural organizations renting in commercial spaces.
This month’s evictions come as part of a long trajectory of art and social spaces evicted in the city, particularly for organizations with roots in low-income areas facing rapid gentrification. Spartacus Books, based in the DTES area for 40 years, was pushed out from its previous location across from Victory Square due to “staggeringly high rent.” Spartacus was only one of a number of groups pushed out and evicted from the one-block radius of the Woodward’s mega-project, including W2, Red Gate, Dynamo and “151 E Hastings.”
This time around, Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies and a hardware store are being evicted alongside Spartacus Books from their shared building on the 600 block of East Hastings. All three tenants were given eviction notices when the building was recently bought up by an unknown developer. Spartacus has to leave its current location by July 31st, 2013.
Spartacus collective member Allison Barker blames the soaring rents on the city’s recent initiative to rezone the industrial Hastings corridor for Vision-friendly developers like Wall Financial. Only a block away from Spartacus and Dan’s Brewing lies 955 East Hastings, the site of a massive development project by Wall Financial, whose subsidiaries and affiliates donated $200-300K to Vision Vancouver in 2011 alone. The gentrification project, dubbed by community activists “Woodward’s East,” contains three-hundred units of market housing and fifty units of “affordable housing.” The affordable housing will be priced at “market rates,” according to city planners.
Meanwhile a few blocks away from the actual Woodward’s, Gen Why Media recently received an eviction notice for May 31st. The eviction will displace the collective members of The Junction, which includes “a workspace housing 11 people who represent projects, businesses and organizations that are working in the social change sector: community garden development social enterprise, independent media producers, 3 documentary/interactive production companies, animator, activist, writer/journalist, poet/musician and a urban farms researcher.” Filmmaker Daniel Pierce — the founder and lease holder of the space — says in an interview with The Mainlander that for collective spaces like The Junction it is “next to impossible to find anything within the same price range that is able to accommodate a sub-lease situation.” Pierce concludes that “our small community may get broken up, if we are unable to find a space.”
Fiona Rayher is a documentary filmmaker currently based in the Junction space. She is the face behind the award-winning Fractured Land documentary, which follows a Dene warrior from northeastern BC as he takes on the extraction industry in his homeland. Rayher calls the eviction “a shock” and puts her own eviction in context of the Fractured Land project: “we are in the middle of film production. Over the summer, we’ll be moving into post production. So not having a space to edit with festival deadlines coming up is rather terrifying.”
Another member of the space, Tara Mahoney, puts the evictions in the context of gentrification. Mahoney of Gen Why Media tells The Mainlander that the Gastown evictions are due to increasing gentrification in the area, adding that the city needs rent control to protect cultural spaces from land and real estate speculation.
Evictions from Chinatown to Mount Pleasant
COPE, Vancouver’s oldest and only left-wing municipal party, currently has its office at the corner of Main Street and Georgia. The party has been evicted from Chinatown this month, with rents scheduled to double. The soaring rents come in tandem with the development of several condo developments in close proximity, including “The Flats” by Panther Constructors Limited on the East 200 block of Georgia, 611 Main Street by Westbank and 633 Main Street by Bosa’s Blue Sky Properties.
“The Downtown Eastside has been an affordable neighbourhood for decades,” said COPE Executive Director Sean Antrim in a statement to The Mainlander. “Now that the area has been opened to real-estate speculation, all bets are off, and the large real-estate corporations that have the support of City Hall are pushing out existing small businesses, artist spaces, and non-profits that had their offices in there, not to mention low-income residential tenants.”
Antrim added, “There’s no doubt in my mind that our landlord looked across the street at the large Westbank project, and saw an opportunity to make huge profits by kicking us out and waiting for new tenants who can pay a rate that we as an organization cannot afford.” As Jean Swanson of the Carnegie Community Action Project recently said in an interview with CBC, “you don’t actually have to physically displace an apartment unit. All you have to do is increase the land values and then the forces that cause displacement kick in.”
CCAP estimates that in Chinatown there are approximately 338 welfare rate housing units in private SRO’s that stand to be lost to rent increases. The majority of the housing units cater to low-income Chinese seniors, whose alternative housing options are in significant short supply.
Further south along Main Street, VIVO Media Arts Centre received an eviction notice after 20 years in the same building at 1915 Main Street. The building was recently bought up by an unknown developer and the eviction is due for May 2014. VIVO general manager Emma Hendrix is not surprised: “it has been happening for 15 years and we all knew prior to the Olympics that this whole area that there would be some major changes.”
According to Hendrix, “unless an organization owns a building or rents from another organization, there is no guarantee.” Instead of zeroing in on the need for tenant protections that include all renters, Hendrix is pursuing Waldorf’s model in seeking a state of exception for established artists and cultural organizations. These measures involve new property ownership models or targeted reprieve and arts-specific amnesty from the effects of the housing market. “There are solutions for cultural organizations like VIVO. It can work,” stated Hendrix in a recent interview with the Vancouver Observer.
Over the past year, the Vancouver Renters’ Union has organized with tenants against evictions in several buildings in Mount Pleasant. Renters’ Union organizer Besh Caron told the The Mainlander that “the changes are not inevitable. Actually, the city government and the corporations have to go to a lot of effort to gentrify a neighbourhood and kick people out. The government has to erode hard-fought legislation that protects tenants, and the city has to rezone properties for developers and even offer incentives and tax breaks and the corporations have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to donate to political parties to guarantee their re-zonings. As I see it, it’s just as inevitable that renters will fight back and win real rent control and stability.”