Today there is an increasingly skewed perception about what the private rental market can and can’t do. In the face of unaffordable condo prices, think tanks and governments have promoted rental housing as an affordable housing alternative. The problem is that while the majority of us live in rental housing, that doesn’t make our homes any less of a speculative commodity. Unregulated rental housing, as much as condos throughout the 2000s, is today a growing vehicle of financial investment and real-estate profitability.
Louise Lagimodiere (right) and Dave Hamm (left) – Photo by Ward Perrin, The Province
Louise Lagimodiere (picture above) is a 70-year old Indigenous senior and member of VANDU. “I got two tickets more than a year ago,” she in an interview with The Mainlander yesterday, “but yet I’m still being called to court. I didn’t harm anybody yet they are spending thousands of dollars trying to get money out of me I don’t have. I wouldn’t be vending if I had the money to pay these fines.”
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPPC) has now rejected the reasons given by the Vancouver Mayor and Police Department for dismissing a complaint of discriminatory by-law enforcement in the Downtown Eastside. The complaint was filed by VANDU and Pivot Legal Society when it was revealed that 95% of all vending tickets and 76% of all jaywalking tickets were handed out in the Downtown Eastside. In September 2013, the Mayor dismissed the joint legal complaint and spoke in favor of a VDP board decision to dismiss the VANDU delegation.
The OPPC is a watchdog formed in 2011 in response to a systemic lack of police accountability in British Columbia.
VANDU members have been fighting against discriminatory by-law enforcement for more than a decade. In 2010 VANDU members collaborated on the Pedestrian Safety Project to address traffic safety concerns for pedestrians in the DTES. The VPD opposed the changes, including a 30km speed zone along Hastings. Many of the recommendations of the Project have since been implemented. At a press conference today, however, VANDU vice president Laura Shaver stated that police need to do more to focus enforcing speeds limits for drivers instead of fines for low-income pedestrians. “It is not the people hitting the cars, it is the cars hitting the people,” Shaver said.
Adrian Dix and the NDP have been defeated in an election that was widely expected to yield a comfortable win for the centre-left party. Over the course of the month-long race, BC politics threw off the political intensity often associated with battles of left and right. Instead of attacking the BC Liberal record, Dix and the NDP chose a strategy of passive precaution, waiting for the other side to falter.
Even if the campaign was marked by few highlights, Dix framed his party’s approach in both lofty and strategic terms, arguing that the new BC NDP had risen above partisan bickering and the petty politics of the BC Liberals. Supporters framed this “21st century” approach as a necessary path for winning government. Beneath the media strategy — the story went — a progressive platform was held waiting to be implemented once in power.
This weekend, Vancouver’s left-wing municipal party will hold its annual general meeting at the Maritime Labour Centre. Before hundreds of Vancouverites file into the 600-capacity hall, I want to reflect on “what now” and “what next” for COPE. My hope is to place COPE within the larger history of Vancouver’s political struggles — in particular the unnamed struggle between the political masses and the rich who oppose them.
Brief history: 1968 — Present
The Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE) was formed in 1968 by organized labour, tenant organizers, and socialists. In 1993 the party was was renamed the Coalition of Progressive Electors, signaling the entry of social movements emergent since the 1960s, including feminist, anti-racist and peace movements rooted in Vancouver.
Throughout its history, the party has been known for its fight to defend public funding for transit and housing, rent control in the 1970s, radical demands for full employment in the 1980s, and more recently, a Sanctuary City policy to confront Harper’s policing and anti-immigrant agenda.
Mass-based and membership-driven, COPE brings together social movements, organizations and communities from across the city. In that spirit, COPE has also struck electoral agreements with Greens and the civic NDP since 1980. At the turn of the 21st century, however, groups within COPE began to argue that the principle of coalition-building should be extended to Vancouver’s business community and developer class.
This past week newspapers reported on Vancouver’s high number of empty condos. The reports were based on new research by Andy Yan of BTAworks. Yan is known for an earlier 2009 study that used BC Hydro statistics to track the number of empty condos in downtown Vancouver. Yan’s new research essentially confirms the 2009 study: as of 2012 Vancouver has an average of 7.7% empty condo units, with an exception for downtown’s Coal Harbour, at 23% empty.
Many of the empty units in the ultra-luxury towers of Coal Harbour are seasonal homes and secondary suites for Canada’s high net worth elite. Canada’s tax cuts have unleashed billions of dollars into luxury real-estate near to home. After ten years of neoliberal reforms since the election of the BC Liberals in 2001, an unprecedented amount of wealth has been freed up for circulation and reinvestment in British Columbia. Profit rates have soared while the corporate income tax rate in BC has been reduced from 16.5 to the current 10%. Today the upper 20% of BC pay a lower total provincial tax rate than the remaining 80%, and the provincial government now collects more revenues from a regressive sales taxes than from income tax.
Since the election of Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver, the city has boasted the lowest corporate tax rate in the world, combined with millions in targeted tax breaks, subsidies, and fee exemptions for local billionaires. In each of the next four years, corporate profits in BC are projected to continue climbing and reach $31.3 billion in the year 2015 alone. Over the course of three decades, billions of dollars of surplus capital have produced flat wages, growing inequality and bloated financial markets. Is there a lot of freed-up capital moving into Vancouver’s speculative real-estate economy? Certainly.
This week the City has released a Report Card evaluating its progress on housing and homelessness. The Report Card gives an A+ to Vision councillors, praised by the Mayor for “exceeding all of the City’s short-term targets.” A brief look at the report confirms that the city is on track to continue the privatization and deregulation of Vancouver’s affordable housing.
Vancouver critics like David Eby have long challenged the practice of police investigating police. The multi-million dollar public relations effort of bodies like BC Housing and the City of Vancouver, however, has not faced the same level of criticism. Like a police force that exonerates itself after an internal investigation, Vision Vancouver is issuing its own “Report Card” in order to escape unscathed from five years of a failed housing and homelessness strategy.
Jenn Jackson July 2012, installed at The Crying Room, Vancouver
This past December, the Conservatives forced through legislative changes to nearly every aspect of First Nations life in Canada. The reforms of omnibus Bill C-45 have sparked the Idle No More movement, and while First Nations have been far from idle in recent years, Canada is experiencing an upsurge of Indigenous activism not felt since the late 1980s and early ‘90s. One focus of the opposition to Bill C-45 is the First Nations Property Ownership Act (FNPOA), a law to convert First Nations reserve land into private property for sale on Canada’s housing market.
Urban housing crisis
To understand the implications of Bill C-45 it is necessary to interpret the current state of the Canadian housing market. The housing crisis engulfing Canada today affects First Nations worse than any other group. In Vancouver, 32 percent of homeless people are aboriginal, despite making up only two percent of the city’s population. In Calgary the rate is 35 percent and in Toronto it is almost 20 percent. The people whose land forms the basis of the colonial nation are the most likely to be left without a home. If they do have an apartment in one of Canada’s largest cities, First Nations are in turn the most likely to be evicted and dispossessed by Canada’s aggressive housing market and colonial tenancy laws.
Yet, as Canada enters an affordability crisis unprecedented since the 1940s, policy-makers are seeking to extend the reach of the private housing market beyond the class-divided cities and onto the reserves.