A house fire on Pandora Street took three lives last Thursday. The event instigated the right-wing NPA to call for an inquiry. However, to ensure tragedies like this do no happen in the future, it is necessary to abandon anti-tenant rhetoric in favour of a more proactive approach that empowers tenants.
No one wants to live in poor housing conditions like those of the Pandora Street house. But in the absence of safe and affordable housing options, renters must choose between inadequate housing and homelessness. And in the absence of strong tenant protection by-laws, fear of eviction condemns tenants to an intolerable status quo.
Several media outlets have drawn attention to the requests for an independent inquiry. Some argue the lives would have been saved had the City shut down the home on account of the illegal living situation. But this would have led to eviction of the nine people living inside, and there were many opportunities for the City to take more proactive action to assist the tenants. Further, it is difficult to ignore that many of the proponents of this ‘eviction solution’ are inspired by intolerance rather than compassion for the tenants themselves (e.g. see the comments at the bottom of this Sun article.)
It is common for Vancouver journalists to bemoan the “fiasco” of the Olympic Village, but they are so often bogged-down in financial matters above their pay-grade that they forget the true fiasco of South East False Creek. Indeed, the Village embodies a profound scandal. At the core of the scandal is that governments broke their social housing promises at the site and then lied about it.
The original plan for the Olympic Village was that 2/3rds of the 1100 units would be affordable, a full half of which would be social housing for those most in need (“deep core”).
The rationale for these promises goes back to the very start of the Olympic bid process. There was much concern that Vancouver’s affordability crisis might grow on account of winning the Olympic bid, pushing the most vulnerable residents into homelessness. In their Inclusivity Statement, the Olympic partners committed to mitigating these impacts, and to providing a positive social housing legacy through projects like the Athletes’ Village at South East False Creek (SEFC). This latter promise was repeated constantly by government officials for years in the lead-up to the Olympics.
A rigorous community planning process between 2003 and 2005 produced the Official Development Plan (ODP) for South East False Creek (SEFC), which was approved by Vancouver City Council on 19 July 2005. The exact wording of the Plan read:
“The goal for household income mix is one-third low income, one-third middle income (or ‘affordable’ housing) and one-third market.”
In addition to rent increases caused by the upscaling and renovation of dozens of low-income buildings around the city, Vancouver is losing affordable housing through the outright demolition of buildings. Last month, City Council approved the demolition of the Cecil Hotel. Two months ago, Vancouver City Council approved the loss of almost all low-income housing at the American Hotel, whose tenants were illegally evicted in 2006. Last year saw a drastic loss of housing, with City Council allowing for the closure of low-income hotels surrounding Woodward’s while granting the demolition permit for the 224 housing units at Little Mountain.
Today, however, the provincial and municipal governments jointly proclaim a “partnership of excellence” in the fight against homelessness. Some journalists have written of the “tight bond” between the Province and City under Mayor Gregor Robertson, and it has recently been reported that many Vision councilors were favorable towards Rich Coleman’s leadership bid for the BC Liberal Party because of “all the progress he has been able to make with the City of Vancouver on social housing during this Vision Vancouver term.”[i]
More than anything else, the proclaimed successes of the “partnership” revolve around the construction of fourteen sites of social housing in Vancouver, known as the ‘Vancouver sites.’ The myth of these fourteen sites can be traced to the destruction of housing at Little Mountain.