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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.

Three more shelters are supposed to close this week. The closures seem inevitable, but they are not.

Today, people living at the three remaining shelters are organized and are planning to fight back. We can remember clearly the same situation last year: when Central Shelter residents responded to the closure of their shelter by announcing a tent city, the government was forced to change plans. Central is still open to this day, even though it was a so-called “seasonal” shelter. More recently, the scheduled closure of New Fountain shelter this month was put on hold after protests at City Hall and throughout Vancouver.

People want to stay at the remaining shelters, but they will need enough support because when they walk out of the shelters looking for a place to set up tents and structures on sidewalks and alleys, they will now be automatically responsible for a $1000 fine: last week Mayor Gregor Roberston and Vision passed a law that bans tent cities in Vancouver. This is why today, when seniors, shelter residents, supporters and media gathered for a press conference about the tent city outside the Cardero Shelter, dozens of police arrived to intimidate, monitor and film from across the boulevard. When the police cameras are pointing, and when cops arrive to instill fear and make shelter residents disperse under the pressure of surveillance and authority, supporters need to be there arm in arm. When the police say to the media, “trust us, they are criminals,” we have to say in return: “trust us, they are criminals.”