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For $25,000 you could have attended a private roundtable lunch meeting today with Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. Organized by real estate marketer Bob Rennie, it’s the most recent, and perhaps most tasteless, case of the real estate industry filling Vision’s coffers.

Bob Rennie is the most prominent condominium marketer in British Columbia. His following of real estate agents, brokers and, more importantly, developers, has earned him the moniker condo king.

The biggest players in real-estate keep him as close as possible, ensuring they’ll have the ear of BC’s most powerful politicians. Peter Wall of Wall Financial Corp, for example, maintains access to Rennie by paying him $25,000 a month as a consultant.

Ming Sun

Today, City inspectors arrived unannounced to the Ming Sun Benevolent Association building and performed an inspection. The building, containing affordable housing, the artist collective Instant Coffee, and artist studio spaces for low-income Chinese seniors at 439 Powell has been under ongoing threat of demolition. The threat continues despite the fact that “several independent structural reports stated that the Ming Sun Building is structurally sound,” according to activists who have been fighting to save the site.

Several people who have been working to save the building had arrived early to perform repairs on the building, but were surprised by the arrival of City staff, sparking concerns that the building would be demolished immediately.

The concerns were amplified when at least a dozen vehicles from Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services arrived on the scene with lights flashing.

A coalition of citizens, called “Friends of 439,” has formed to preserve the building. This morning about a dozen concerned supporters of the building converged at 439 Powell to keep watch over the property.

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For five years, Vision councillors have argued that the City of Vancouver can’t use its own powers to build and protect affordable housing. Councillor Geoff Meggs has reiterated to The Tyee this week that threats to affordable rental housing are “beyond city hall’s control.” Despite their refusal to publicly criticize the provincial government, Vision has maintained that social housing and rent control are each the sole jurisdictions of senior governments.

Critics have often cited municipal housing authorities and rent control boards in cities like Toronto, New York and Vienna. It has often been pointed out that Vancouver too has a housing authority – something few people know about because city council has allowed it to remain dormant since being elected in 2008.

In response to these criticisms, Vision councillors have played the “jurisdictional” card, passing the buck to other levels of government. According to Vision, “the city gets blamed for the problem when the powers to fix it lie with the provincial government.” Yet the Mayor has been supportive of the BC Liberal government since being elected in 2008. Not once has Robertson or council publicly called on the Province to increase funding for housing or change the Residential Tenancy Act. At the end of the day, the main financial backers of Vision also control BC Housing and are the main BC Liberals donors.

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Last week, Vision Vancouver city councilor Geoff Meggs wrote an opinion piece for The Tyee claiming that City Hall is taking bold steps to address the rental housing crisis.

These claims are difficult to accept given that the situation for renters in Vancouver has worsened since the election of Gregor Robertson in 2008. Rents have increased steadily, by 15% over the past four years.

Since 2008, the number of low-income households in Vancouver has decreased by 18%. This is not because wages are increasing, but rather because service sector workers and their jobs have been forced out of the city.

Similarly, public school enrollment has been decreasing steadily at 2% per year, even though private school enrolment hasn’t increased. According to the Vancouver School Board, the main reason families are leaving is that they can no longer afford the cost-of-living. As school funding is tied to the number of students, this has a devastating impact on the school board budget. The Vancouver School Board is now locked into a perpetual crisis of cut-backs, layoffs, and school closures.

The impacts of Meggs’ high-cost market rental buildings

The costs of the affordability crisis are widely acknowledged, and the effects are felt by renters every day. But the reality that our affordable housing stock is being eroded under Vision Vancouver needs to be placed front-and-centre. For years Meggs has argued that only the free market can bring housing affordability. Not only are the market rental units championed by Meggs high-cost (a discussion of the cost of new market housing was published in today’s Tyee), but each new development will have have a net negative effect on the affordable neighbourhoods they are part of. This is for a simple reason: the glaring loophole in the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA).

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Social Housing Coalition BC statement on BC Liberal and NDP housing platforms, written from unceded Coast Salish Territory

On Wednesday, April 24th, the BC NDP released its platform statement on housing. Consistent with the party’s position on welfare rates, there is very little in the Platform for low-income people. While the BC Liberal platform is completely silent on social housing and welfare rates, the NDP platform promises are woefully inadequate.

During the current tenure of the BC Liberals, homelessness and the acute housing crisis has expanded considerably. From 2002 until 2010 homelessness in Vancouver nearly tripled to 1,713, and throughout the province over 10,000 people are visibly homeless. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are tens of thousands of people among the “hidden” homeless and over 65,000 are at risk of homelessness, paying above 50% of their income for rent, often for inadequate and insecure housing.

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As part of the city’s Digital Strategy, the City of Vancouver is planning to build a Technology Centre in the heart of the DTES. The Technology Centre is a strategic gentrification catalyst that will put thousands of low-income housing units at risk. The Digital Strategy is on council’s agenda today, April 9th, 2013, as Homeless Dave enters his 19th day of Hunger Strike demanding housing and social justice at the former Police Station.

City planners and politicians are currently proposing that the city-owned building at 312/324 Main Street be used as a Technology Incubation and Acceleration Center. The former police station building is vacant following the VPD’s move to the former Vanoc building near Boundary Road in January, 2013. Moving expenses alone cost the city $10m of taxpayer money, and yet the municipal government is considering further subsidies to incoming entrepreneurial tenants at the 300 block of Main Street.

Raise the Rates

On Wednesday, March 27, residents across the city joined together to walk 14.5km across Vancouver for Welfare Justice. The walk was organized by the Raise the Rates coalition to highlight the need for a significant increase in welfare rates as well as a comprehensive anti-poverty plan in the lead-up to the provincial election this May. The walk commenced at Christy Clark’s office on West 4th Ave in Kitsilano and ended almost 8 hours later outside Adrian Dix’s office at the Joyce Street skytrain station.

Homeless Dave joined the walk for Welfare Justice on the sixth day of his hunger strike against displacement and gentrification. Welfare and housing are intimately connected and as Vancouver’s low-income housing stock erodes, people on income assistance are being hit the hardest. In 2012 alone, 426 SRO units in the DTES became unaffordable for people on welfare. A recent article by Seth Klein shows that despite government press releases, the actual increase in the social housing stock in BC has been negligible since 2006.