Three dozen seniors living on fixed incomes in the Lions Manor building at 6th and Main have been served with a 45% rent increase. In a city with an ever-worsening housing crisis, the tenants could be faced with the possibility of having nowhere to go.

The Mount Pleasant Housing Society (MPHS), a non-profit organization set up by the Mount Pleasant Lions Club, has applied to the Residential Tenancy Branch for permission to exceed the annual rent-increase limit by more than ten times, arguing that rents at Lions Manor are below market value. In reality, the 36 residents of Lions Manor already pay between 35-45% of their income on rent, which is higher than the one-third cut-off rate defined by the City of Vancouver as affordable.*

The rent-increase hearing is scheduled for today (February 10) at the Residential Tenancy Branch. The hearing will take place by phone, adding even more anonymity to the fact that the building owners have not yet met face-to-face with the seniors to discuss the increase. Despite pressure to revoke their application, including a rally outside the Lions Manor yesterday, the Mount Pleasant Housing Society has confirmed that it will pursue the rent increase as planned.

In an extensive conversation with The Mainlander, Mount Pleasant Housing Society president Christine Norman confirmed that if the hearing comes down in favor of the tenants, her organization will appeal the decision. “We will do whatever we have to do to win the case,” said Norman by phone.

Rents have already increased within the allowable legal limit for at least the past two consecutive years at the Lions Manor. This year, however, the owners are seeking a special exemption from the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) beyond its allowable yearly limit of inflation-plus-two-percent. Under Section 23(1)(a), the geographic area loophole of the RTA, the Mount Pleasant Housing Society is applying for an additional 45% rent increase. The section reads:

A landlord may apply under section 43 (3) of the Act [additional rent increase] if one or more of the following apply: (a) after the rent increase allowed under section 22 [annual rent increase], the rent for the rental unit is significantly lower than the rent payable for other rental units that are similar to, and in the same geographic area as, the rental unit.

This loophole puts all renters in gentrifying areas at risk. The neighborhood surrounding Lions Manor is part of what the Vancouver planning department calls the Main Street revitalization corridor, stretching from Alexander Street south to 36th Avenue. The advancement of the condo frontier up Main Street has widened the rent gap between the ground rent and highest-best use capitalized rent, increasing the return on capital in the area. As such, market rents bear no reflection of the actual costs of tenancy but rather of the opportunity cost of capital. The Residential Tenancy Act exists to protect renters from the most exploitative aspects of the housing market, but Section 23(1)(a) cancels out the very purpose of the Act.

MPHS states that it needs a 45% revenue increase to funds its renovations, although Norman would not speak further for fear of “jeopardizing” her case before the Residential Tenancy hearing. According to Norman, the building should have been repaired 10 years ago. Balconies were left to decay by the Lion’s Club and only repaired when they became a safety hazard.

Vancouver’s 6-year Director of Planning has been fired by city council. In lieu of a normal transition process, the city has fired Toderian without an immediate replacement. While it is not clear why Toderian was fired, the abrupt decision came after a period of heightened tension with prominent developers, including disagreements with Holborn Group at Little Mountain and Wall Financial Corp at Shannon Mews.

At a press conference today the Mayor stated that Toderian’s dismissal was prompted by the need for “new leadership to deal with new challenges facing the city, especially around housing affordability and economic development.” Rather than focusing on Toderian’s conflicts with developers, Robertson and the city stated that a new planning director should be capable of “balancing competing demands” between affordability on the one hand and market development on the other.

City hall insiders, however, were less vague than Roberston. Bob Ransford emphasized that Toderian “had a hard time with the necessary political skills needed to keep developers on your side.” Michael Geller also acknowledged that Toderian was “unpopular with many developers.” Mike Klassen was even more direct: “Let’s be clear about why Brent is leaving the City of Vancouver now. First, the development community by in large didn’t support him.” This analysis by Vancouver’s three “in-house” right-wing commentators was echoed by a fourth right-wing perspective, from Jeff Lee.

Lee pointed to the development community’s ongoing refusal to pay normal development taxes. According to Lee, Toderian was fired because he was “responsible for enforcing a controversial ‘community amenity contribution’ (CAC) program.” Far from being controversial, the CAC program is a simple tax placed on private developers in exchange for community amenities like daycare, recreation centers and artist studios. While Lee would give the impression that CAC’s are onerous and dig into “the bulk of profits,” the small CACs have virtually no impact on the developers’15 – 20% minimum profit rate.

For the past few years, Toderian and the planning department have also been butting heads with development corporations over the normal taxation on market development with respect to the land zoning process. In Vancouver, land-value is tied to the amount of development allowed on a site, which city planners term the Floor Space Ratio (FSR). When the FSR is increased, it most frequently means that the allowable building height has been increased, therefore the process is called “upzoning” or “land lift.” Upzoning automatically increases the value of the land commodity, but as with most things at city hall, the developer is not required to pay the full value of its commodity: on average, developers are required to pay 75 – 80% of the upzoned value. Sometimes this amounts to millions of dollars of free money if the land has been purchase prior to rezoning.

In a report to the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) members this weekend, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representative Bill Pegler delivered a strong statement of support for Vancouver’s newly-elected city council. Despite COPE losing all of its council and parks board seats, and all but one school board seat, CUPE has declared the November elections a victory. “For CUPE, the 2011 elections were a success,” Pegler said to a crowd of 100 COPE members gathered at the Hastings Community Centre to debrief the 2011 Vancouver civic election. “The overall goals of CUPE have been met.”

Because COPE accepts few corporate donations, the party relies on unions for the vast majority of its funding. In the 2008 civic election, 80% of COPE’s $350,000 in campaign contributions came from unions, including a full 50% from CUPE locals alone. At the other side of the equation, Vision has identified CUPE as an important piece of the puzzle for electoral success in Vancouver, both in terms of financial donations (CUPE donates more to Vision than to COPE), and in terms of Vision’s ability to secure control over the COPE Executive via its financial donors.

Pegler’s comments send a strong signal to Vision that they should continue the electoral alliance with COPE to keep “the party of renters” in the position of being alive but without seats on council. The comments also signaled to COPE that in order to survive within their current funding structure, COPE volunteers must continue working to elect representatives of CUPE’s preferred party.

While CUPE donates heavily to Vision Vancouver, the majority of Vision’s funding comes from developers. This is due to the fact that city council’s biggest job is to regulate land use — and therefore property values and rents. Under Vision, the city will remain steadfastly right-wing on these core issues, with the result that Vancouverites — including CUPE members — will spend more and more of their incomes on sky-rocketing rents and land values. By considering Vision’s victory a success, CUPE is making the choice to neglect the key issues of affordability, housing security, and public transportation.


Today the mayor announced that the city will be attempting to end the occupation of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The announcement comes as a surprise for some who have been following. So far the only candidates in the municipal election calling for the eviction of the VAG have been from the right-wing NPA and their blog at citycaucus. In reality the mayor and council have used forced to shut down tent cities ever since being elected in 2008.

In the three years since 2008, Vision Vancouver and Robertson have evicted all major tent cities and arrested dozens of housing activists at shelters and empty housing projects across the city. Maybe the question today is not why the Mayor has announced the closure of the occupation, but rather why it has been allowed to stay as long as it has?

After setting up on October 15, the mayor stated twice in separate sessions at city council that he would not order the removal of the camp at the VAG. In the weeks after the first tent, the Canadian occupations were deemed harmless to the Canadian elite, framed more as re-enactments of Occupy Wall Street than as local interventions. The Prime Minister argued that “we didn’t bail out our banking sector,” and news outlets across Canada doubled down on the talking-point that the Canadian occupations could not last for long, with no anchor in local issues. This was also the sentiment in the air in Vancouver, where the Mayor judged that the occupation was a “symbolic” protest that would disappear as the winter weather arrived.

Despite feeling safe from imminent eviction, we campers still worried about the ‘NO CAMPING’ signs posted about the Art Gallery grounds, which referenced the city’s unconstitutional structures by-law. In response, Mainlander writers posted an article about whether or not the by-law would be used to shut down the occupation, arguing that we should be ready for anything, since “for the police and city managers of Vancouver, every protest is legal up to a point — in so far as the status quo does not change.”

This turning point was October 22, after the first big march of 1,000 people on the banks.


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This week the City released its three-year plan for addressing housing affordability in Vancouver. The plan has been received with wide appeal as an ambitious attempt to solve street homeless in Vancouver by 2015. In fact, the plan calls for drastic reductions in the city’s own housing goals, while introducing major reporting fabrications that give the appearance of a new direction for housing.

The three-year action plan announces 3,650 new units of non-market housing. Immediately, observers will recognize that almost half of these 3,650 new units are not new at all: they are part of the 14 sites, which were promised for completion by 2010 at the latest, not 2014. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for these sites was signed in 2007 and construction was supposed to start in 2008. The units were part of the 3,200 units promised by all three levels of government under the Inner City Inclusivity agreement (ICI) as a condition of hosting the Olympic Games. Zero of these units were built by time of the Olympics.

Once the 14 sites are subtracted from the 3-year total, the City is committed to building only 1,950 new housing units. However, a further significant portion of these 1,950 units are also falsely included. 319 of them are not planned for actual construction, since, as the report says, they “currently have no identified funding source.” In addition to this, 276 further units cannot be genuinely counted since they are drawn from the Little Mountain housing development. Little Mountain does not represent new units for the housing stock, since the 224 units of public housing at Little Mountain, built in 1954, were destroyed and all residents were promised to be re-housed by 2010. Since that illegal demolition, residents have been told that only half of them will be re-housed by 2014 at the earliest.


I have recently been involved in the campaign for an independent COPE. There have been many arguments for a coalition with Vision Vancouver, but all of them boil down to a financial argument: if COPE separates from Vision, there will be no money from labour to run against Vision’s unlimited developer backing and strong foreign campaign donations. But honestly, do the members of Vancouver’s unions agree with the idea that their leadership will fund only Vision?

I have been asking everyone I talk to: do rank and file union members really agree with corporate tax cuts? Do members of CUPE 315, for example, agree with staff layoffs, P3’s and service cuts at a time of growing inequality? Do members of CUPE 378 agree with the three years of neoliberal reforms that have worsened the situation for everyone except the richest Vancouverites? Do the diverse members of the Vancouver District Labour Council really agree with the massive demolition and sell-off of social housing in our city? As poverty deepens, do rank and file union people agree with a developer-driven planning agenda that worsens the already-dire affordability crisis in Vancouver? Do they agree with closed shelters, and a homeless rate that increases year after year as people are pushed out the bottom in the world’s most unaffordable city?

No, they don’t agree. If there is a plan of action, union members and working people will break with conservative deals and go with what is possible: an independent COPE to win the November elections.

Above all, it is a strategic choice for COPE to reject a coalition with Vision. Currently it is COPE who is forced to argue that “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em.” This is the attitude that has allowed for a coalition despite the wide ideological gap between COPE and Vision. But if COPE takes a stand and refuses to go along with the game, it is Vision who is forced to adopt the survival attitude of joining opponents, and it is a much smaller ideological gap separating the opponent. Vote after vote, decision after decision, Vision and the NPA come together on the big issues, whether it’s corporate tax cuts, property upzoning, or the demolition of public housing.

Let’s face the voting record and compare the NPA term of 2005 – 2008 with the Vision term of 2008 – 2011. By every standard, Vision’s term has been a continuation of the NPA’s mandate, except that in many cases it has been worse. Take at least three areas that matter: taxes, housing, and public sector employment.

Vancouver historian Michael Barnholden has written that there are at least two recurring themes in Vancouver’s political discourse. The first is a theme of revision, where low-income and working-class lives and stories are erased from the history of the city. The second is a history of criminalization, where the poor are associated in the political imagination with crime and police control. A truly contemporary example of the use of these two motifs occurred today in a Globe and Mail article on the conversion and upscaling of the American Hotel.

In the coming weeks, the American is set to open with almost 50 market-rate apartment units and an entrepreneurial “izakaya-themed” bar below. The project at 938 Main Street will establish the building as part of trendy developments extending the “Crosstown” area beyond Chinatown South. The Globe piece, written by Frances Bula, sets out in journalism’s formulaic terms to booster the development. Most notably, the article gives a vivid documentation of the history of petty crime and drug trafficking at the American hotel, and it is in light of this dark past that a bright, “revitalized” future is posed for the American.

Yet in all of its emphasis on crime, Frances Bula fails to mention the biggest crime of all: the illegal eviction of all low-income tenants from the hotel in 2006. In contrast to the “grunge” of the city, Bula chooses to write exclusively for the quasi-artistic retail bourgeoisie, making it “hard to mourn the American Hotel and its bar that died in 2006, unless you were into super-cheap blocks of stolen cheese, cocaine, motorcycle gangs, grunge or all of the above.” The list excludes the low-income history while at the same time making it so that if the history were to be included, it would have to do so only by being inserted into a predetermined list of crimes. But for a moment let us remember – mourn – the true history of the American Hotel.