This Tuesday, the Vision-controlled City Council struck a developer-run “affordable housing” task force. The public debate surrounding the affordability crisis has begun in earnest – and that is a great thing. Unfortunately, the discussion has been largely limited to pundits in the corporate media and rich people who work in the development industry — none of whom have have direct experience dealing with the affordability crisis. The vast majority of their professional and friendship networks are totally disconnected from the front lines of eviction and tenure insecurity.

As a result, much public commentary has been out-of-touch and condescending. The quality of recommendations has been substandard, the argumentation lazy, all this grounded in a position of apathy. For example, Gary Mason published a piece in the Globe and Mail this morning entitled “Living in Vancouver comes at a price,” which begins by recognizing that we are in the midst of an affordability crisis:

“Most of the world’s major cities are trying to solve this problem – in the most politically palatable way possible. In Canada, the issue is particularly acute in markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, where real-estate prices long ago made home ownership a dream for everyone except the wealthy.”

First we should note that Mason’s main, though concealed, argument here is that Vancouver’s housing problem is no different from that of any other major city. This is decidedly false. The disparity between median income and median market housing price is larger in Vancouver than every other city on the planet except for Hong Kong. But then Hong Kong has 1.2 million units of public housing, which house 40% of the population. Just this week, a report came out showing that Vancouver has the highest rent in Canada. While most readers will know all this intuitively — many of us adapt to the crisis by multiple-subletting and by sleeping in attics, basements, on couches, floors – it’s necessary to cite these figures to remind out-of-touch elites that the crisis is systemic. The situation in Vancouver is not healthy and normal. It is pathological and exploitative.

Mason then addresses some policy approaches he has heard circulating in elite circles: 1) “subsidized” housing on city land, 2) rezone certain areas for more townhouses, and 3) co-op housing.



Tomorrow, June 30th, Vancouver City Council will decide whether to seek legal injunctions to force repairs of the Palace and Wonder single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The living conditions in these buildings are intolerable. The City report mentions that the Wonder Rooms is in an utter state of disrepair on account of being neglected by its owner. The City found Wonder Rooms to be in violation of 141 Standards of Maintenance Bylaws and 24 Building Bylaws including, for example: “The entire basement and first floor are littered with rat feces and smell very strongly of rat urine.”

Unfortunately, these conditions are representative of many residential tenements in the Downtown Eastside, where landlords increase profits by avoiding maintenance costs. Despite the poor state of repair, owners get away with charging unusually high rents because there is nowhere else in the city for low-income tenants, who are often subject to housing discrimination.

There are about 10,000 low-income housing units in the Downtown Eastside, and a full half of these are SRO hotel rooms. Of those 5,000 SRO units, 1,500 have been purchased in recent years by the Provincial government (although the majority of these still languish in terrible disrepair). Housing advocates have long argued that these 5,000 SRO units must ultimately be replaced with self-contained social housing as soon as possible. The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) has calculated that, at the present snail pace, it will take governments over 50 years to replace the units! CCAP is calling for the units to be replaced with real homes in 10 years or less.

For housing conditions to improve for those in SRO hotels, several things should happen. First, pressure should be brought to bear on the owners. The City must enforce building bylaws as rigourously in the DTES as in Shaughnessy. In the case of the Wonder and Palace hotels, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) is calling for maximum fines to be applied. The Wonder Rooms alone incurred so many violations that if maximum fines are sought, the owner could face $30,000,000 in fines since the Mar 31 2011 repair deadline! That is enough to incentivize construction of 7,000 affordable units throughout the city.


The Mainlander’s Tristan Markle debated CityCaucus’ Daniel Fontaine from 9am-10am on CKNW’s The Bill Good Show, AM980, Tues June 28.

Topics included:

  • the social causes of the Stanley Cup riots;
  • unsafe conditions in SRO hotels;
  • municipal environmental initiatives;
  • decisions by COPE and the civic Greens on whether to run joint slates with Vision Vancouver.

To listen, click here and go to ‘Bill Good Show – Tues June 28 – Hour 1’.

The Mainlander vs. CityCaucus debate will continue next Tues July 5th on The BIll Good Show, AM980, 9am-10am.


The Mainlander’s Sean Antrim appeared on Wake-Up With Co-op Radio this past Friday Jun 24 at 7:00am. Antrim outlined Vancouver’s regressive tax climate, describing the impacts of City Council’s tax shifts, corporate tax breaks and tax holidays:

  • fuels real-estate speculation
  • drives up rents, displacing small businesses
  • gives the advantages to big-box stores
  • blows a hole in the city budget
  • impairs the City’s capacity to invest in affordable housing and other public goods

Listen by clicking this link. Sean speaks from minutes 37 to 50 (out of 60min total).

 


Michael Barnholden, author of Reading the Riot Act: A Brief History of Rioting in Vancouver (Anvil Press 2005), is associate director of Humanities 101 at the University of British Columbia, member of the board of the Kootenay School of Writing, and managing editor of the literary magazine West Coast LINE.

I have to admit I was taken by surprise. When asked if there would be a riot after game 7 of the Stanley Cup final I said: “No, conditions just aren’t right, there’s not enough anger out there.” The anger I was referring to would be the anger directed at the police and the government, in short, the authorities. I was wrong. It seems there was no shortage of anger. But then, I also thought the Canucks would win the cup.

For me the question that remains is what is the source of the anger? I don’t buy the theory that losing a game results in such rage. The bad apple theory doesn’t hold water nor does mob mentality. Too many bad apples not enough mob. So where does the rage come from? Here’s my theory.

BC has just come through the most vicious ten year cycle of class warfare waged by the BC Liberal government under Gordon Campbell and the election of a new leader in the person of Christy Clark promises more of the same in a new style. What is the evidence?

In the 2008 election, Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson recognized that to win an election in progressive Vancouver, politicians needed to talk the talk of progressive politics. For Vision this meant rallying Vancouver around the bold idea of addressing the housing crisis and Ending Homelessness. Electorally, it meant a compromise with COPE, Vancouver’s traditional progressive party. COPE and Vision would work together under the “big umbrella” of progressive change, with COPE running only two councilors.

Today, after three years of a Vision majority on City Council, the progressive spirit chosen in the 2008 municipal elections is nowhere to be found. The party who promised to end homelessness and address affordability has turned out to be its mirror opposite, giving millions in tax breaks to developers, decreasing the corporate tax rate to the lowest in the world, forcibly closing homeless shelters, cutting services, hiring millions of dollars of additional police officers, and deepening the affordability crisis at every possible turn.

This month, the members of COPE will have to decide whether or not to enter into another electoral deal with Vision. Members will be presented with that choice at a COPE general meeting on June 26, 2011. Here are ten reasons COPE members ought to reject the deal as proposed, and instead support an independent progressive party in the 2011 municipal elections:

1. Affordable Housing….


“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” – Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord

After the Stanley Cup riot of 1994, a Georgia Straight article, titled “Stupidville” pondered: “[Vancouverites] had better decide what we want this community to be about, besides pretty vistas when it doesn’t rain. What shared tasks can we undertake whose achievement will fill us with civic pride? What conditions are needed to come to unconditionally love this place, not for where it is, but for what it is?” But after 15 years of more pretty vistas and nature fetishism, we have failed to produce “something nobler than a mob heading to Stupidville,” as the Straight hoped.

Many of tonight’s rioters were toddlers during the previous riot, so they cannot possibly be blamed for both. Although each fanatic must face their own responsibility for being swept up in the tide of jingoism, the system that produces Canuck fanatics goes back decades. It is important to analyze this system of fanatic production, in order that “something nobler” emerge one day.

First it is impossible to have fanatics without spectacle. Tonight, we had two spectacles: the spectacle of the Canucks, then the spectacle of the Rioters. Disappointed fanatics, unable to control the outcome of the hockey game, created a spectacle of their own. Meanwhile, sitting at home, you could consume representations of both, without having power over either.

It is often claimed that fanatics turn to hooliganism to compensate feelings of powerless when their team loses, and express their powerlessness through violence. There is truth to this, but there is more: they overcome their powerlessness through spectacle.

It helps to recall that our late-capitalist society is a “society of the spectacle,” where social life is increasingly mediated through representations – corporate media and advertising. We acquire collective experience, and even collective purpose, by gazing at these representations. And in Vancouver, the gaze has been professionally focused on ‘our boys’ fighting the enemy – the Boston Bruins.