Slumlords throw weight behind Vision Vancouver re-election

Tenants fight renovictions at 1850 Adanac, May 2012

Like many of today’s major cities, Vancouver is a city of slum-landlords – owners of substandard housing where building maintenance codes are ignored, tenants are dispensable, and legislation around rental housing, like the BC Residential Tenancy Act, is rarely followed. This year, far more than any previous election, Vision Vancouver is being financed by those slumlords.

Vancouver’s most notorious slumlords – Steven Lippman (Living Balance), CM Properties, Gordon Nelson, Amacon Property Management, Hollyburn Properties – are bankrolling Vision with $150,000 in campaign donations. Together they are using their money, made from evictions and homelessness, to fund Vision Vancouver’s re-election campaign.

Slumlord highlights: Lippman, Nelson, CM Bay Properties, Amacon, and Hollyburn

The term ‘renoviction’ is often traced to 2011, with the West End eviction notices at the Seafield apartment building. That year, the owners tried to evict the 17 tenants of Seafield. The eviction notices were handed out to the tenants by the owners – CM Bay Properties and Gordon Nelson – after the tenants were unsuccessfully served with a 75% rent increase. Nelson and CM Bay are now throwing their financial weight behind Vision.

Other pro-Vision slumlords include Amacon Property Management and Hollyburn Properties. In 2005, Amacon Property Management became infamous for trying to evict the tenants in the 240-unit Richmond Garden complex. In 2006, Hollyburn sent out eviction notices to about 50 tenants in the West End’s Bay Tower.

Since 2005, another famous slumlord, Steven Lippman, has been evicting hundreds of low-income tenants from SRO hotels in the Downtown Eastside. Lippman started his career as a professional slumlord, at about the same that Vision Vancouver was created. His first act was to buy up the 200 block of W Hastings, before gradually evicting every low-income tenant from the block.

Lippman’s numerous holding companies each gave a separate donation to Vision Vancouver. Each company corresponds to an upscaled SRO with a history of eviction. This includes the Golden Crown Hotel (116 W Hastings Street Holdings Ltd.), the Lotus Hotel (455 Abbott Street Holdings (GP) Ltd), and the American Hotel (928 Main Street Holding Ltd.).

Other SRO holding companies owned by Lippman include 71-77 East Hastings Holdings Ltd, 620 West Pender Holdings Ltd, 228 East Pender Joint Venture, 1012 Main Street Holdings Ltd and 249 E Georgia Holdings Ltd.

Together, these slumlords have contributed more than $150,000 to Vision Vancouver’s election campaign. Amacon donated $45k, Hollyburn donated $1k. CM Bay Properties and Gordon Nelson donated $25k each. Lippman, as mentioned, made donations from dozens of separate property holding companies, totalling $7-8k.

These slumlord donations do not include hundred thousands worth of donations from developers that are profiting from the continued and ongoing gentrification of the DTES and other low-income areas. This includes Wall, Westbank, Reliance, Rennie, Magnum, Chip Wilson & Low-Tide properties, Aquilini, and Holborn, whose donations collectively amount to more than $1m.

Why do slumlords donate to Vision Vancouver?

Throughout the last six years Vision Vancouver has sent a strong message. The message is that they will not, under any circumstances, intervene against the free market. Through their continued and staunch opposition to the regulation of the housing market, Vision has proven to slumlords and gentrifiers that they can safely evict tenants without a negative response from city hall.

Despite being elected in 2008 with a mandate to end homelessness, Vision has refused to take steps to regulate the market. This includes easy steps such as strengthening the SRA by-law, enforcing strong and inclusive definitions of affordability, mandating rent control in new developments, and enforcing the existing Standards of Maintenance by-law.

The 1981 Standards of Maintenance by-law # 5462 gives the city the power to force landlords to maintain buildings, and pay for necessary repairs. Housing advocates have been calling on the city to enforce this by-law for years. But yet, developer-backed councils, whether NPA or Vision, have refused. After tireless pressure from tenants, Pivot Legal Society, CCAP and others, the city enforced the by-law at the infamous Palace and Wonder hotels. But what about the hundreds of other violations in slumlord buildings? The city needs to crack down on slumlords every day, not once in six years.

So why are the slumlords satisfied with Vision? Or more to the point, what has Vision done for the slumlords? They have opened up and deregulated low-income areas for upzoning and profitable market development through local area planning processes; they have given new tax benefits and exemptions to developers provided through STIR and Rental 100; they have watered down the city’s legal definitions of social and affordable housing to make them work with the market; they have refused to close loopholes in the SRA by-law; they have refused to enforce pro-tenant municipal legislation, like by-laws #4548, #9094 and #9535 (thank you Jennifer O’Keefe for the research).

Today’s BC Residential Tenancy Act is filled with loopholes that allow landlords to bypass established rent controls. If a slumlord is able to successfully evict a tenant, the normal restrictions on yearly allowable rent increases are waived, hence the legal origins of the infamous “renovictions.” City hall controls all renovation permits in Vancouver, which means that city council could significantly close the RTA loophole on renovictions. Yet Vision councillor Geoff Meggs has scoffed at the idea, saying it would “unfairly force landlords to lose money.”

In response to Steven Lippman’s upscaling of SRO’s in 2013, Vision councillor Kerry Jang defended the eviction of low-income tenants. In an interview with the Globe and the Mail, Jang argues that despite world-record profits and housing prices, rent increases are necessary to ensure the viability of buildings. If a slumlord building is not maintained, Jang argues, it’s the tenants’ fault: “when you have entirely welfare rates in a building, they fall down.”

Jang added that the Lippman evictions were out of his control, since Vision has done “everything within our powers as a city.” Yet the statements of Geoff Meggs are more accurate. For Vision it would be “unrealistic” to go against the interests of slum landlords. It’s not that Vision can’t find ways to fight the slumlords, it’s that they don’t want to. Their bottom-line depends on it.

Correction: An earlier version of this article connected the Aquilini Group, who donated $60,000 to Vision and who were given a $35m tax break from Vision for their luxury development at 800 Griffiths Way, with Lorenzo Aquilini, the CEO of Ashurwin Holdings (the slumlord who renovicted 1850 Adanac). Our apologies. -Editors