This past Saturday British Columbians took to the streets to build public support for social housing and rent control in the lead-up to next spring’s provincial election. At twelve intersections across the City of Vancouver, campaigners held banners and signs, wore red-scarves, and circulated literature describing BC’s affordability crisis and the urgent need for pro-active solutions.

As of yet, there have been no promises made by the major provincial political parties regarding affordable housing construction or rent-control.

Saturday’s action, organized by the BC Social Housing Coalition, continues the tradition of “stands for social housing” which were a common sight at intersections across B.C. before the 2009 election.

The campaign is shining a spotlight on the need for new social housing. Before 2001, there was an average of 2,000 units of social housing built in the province each year. But since that time the has number dropped precipitously, creating a sizeable social housing deficit and ballooning wait lists. The coalition is calling for a strong social housing program that can close this deficit, while prioritizing the most vulnerable populations.

The coalition is also issuing a warning about the danger facing existing affordable housing stock. Tens of thousands of non-profit and co-op units are in danger as federal subsidies expire in the coming years. The coalition is proposing a plan to deal with this looming disaster.

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SFU’s Teaching Support Staff Union has issued a notice that they will be kicking off more job action tomorrow. On November 7th, the TSSU stood in solidarity with members of CUPE 3338 in a 24 hour picket of Simon Fraser campuses in Downtown Vancouver, Surrey, and at Burnaby Mountain.

Other post-secondary unions had job action today. Members of the Vancouver Community College Employees Union, CUPE 4468, were on strike at both VCC campuses today. Members of the BCGEU and the BC Faculty and Staff Association held picket lines at BCIT.

Last week at UBC, CUPE 2278 members approved their contract, which gave them a 2% wage increase each year for two years retroactive from September, subtracted from which is a $50,000 fund that the union can use to give to members to cover costs related to employment. They also won some wording around hiring preferences, ensuring that PhD students are able to have employment for more of their degree. UBC had originally offered 1.5% for both years.

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Today Vancouver city council passed a motion to rezone 800 Griffiths Way, a North False Creek property adjacent to the Rogers Arena. The property is owned by Aquilini Investment Group and will be used for three market rental towers totaling 614 units of market housing on top of commercial and office space.

According to Connor Donegan of the Vancouver Renters’ Union, the housing will be “severely unaffordable for working people in Vancouver.” Units will be priced at $2,000 per month for 900 sq. ft. units. During public hearings for the project, renters pushed the city for rent caps on a large number of units.

Opponents to the project were joined by COPE in criticizing the city’s decision to forego normal development fees and taxes, amounting to a $35 million loss for the city. According to page 16 of the city staff’s policy report for the project, the exemptions were approved because the developer decided to build rental instead of condos. Condo marketer Bob Rennie estimates that in Vancouver up to 60% of market condo units currently rent and are not owner-occupied.

On Tuesday morning, the tenants of the 1850 Adanac held a press conference with the Vancouver Renters’ Union to draw attention to their landlord’s flagrant disregard for tenants’ health, safety and residential tenure.

Ashurwin Holdings (Lorenzo Aquilini, CEO) purchased the three story, 78-unit building last year, at which point renovictions began taking place one unit at a time. Amazingly, all renovations in the building have been conducted without permits, rendering all recent evictions illegal. Worse, the landlord did not hire a qualified expert to safely remove pre-existing asbestos from the drywall, thereby releasing asbestos throughout the building via these unpermitted renovations. As a result, last week Worksafe BC ordered all renovations be stopped.

Maureen Bourke, a tenant at 1850 Adanac, stated, “I’m very concerned about the manner in which tenants have been treated in this building. The landlords have no regard for our health and safety, both physically and emotionally. We could be facing health issues down the road having been exposed to asbestos. People in the building have been receiving illegal rent increases and a number of tenants have already been renovicted.”

The Mainlander is featured in the civic politics segment every Tuesday morning between 7am-8am on Vancouver Co-op Radio 102.7

This Tuesday Dec 20 2011, The Mainlander’s Sean Antrim interviewed Ivan Drury of Carnegie Community Action Project.

The two discussed the report The Downside of Gentrification – Upscale, written and researched by Jean Swanson and Ivan Drury, about the upscaling and gentrification of the Downtown Eastside.

Click here to listen

The Mainlander is featured in the civic politics segment every Tuesday morning between 7am-8am on Vancouver Co-op Radio 102.7

This Tuesday Dec 13 2011, The Mainlander’s Tristan Markle spoke about:
a) Holborn Group’s recent plans for the redevelopment of Little Mountain
b) Mayor Robertson’s appointment of multimillionaire developer Olga Ilich as co-chair of the city’s affordable housing task force

Click here to listen

Vision Vancouver dominated yesterday’s Vancouver civic election. They elected each of their candidates for City Council, Parks Board, and School Board. The right-wing NPA only increased their council seat count from one to two, despite almost doubling their campaign spending to about $2.5 million. The Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) are in an even tighter spot, clearly not benefiting from their electoral agreement with Vision. Like last time, COPE’s Ellen Woodsworth was fighting for the tenth and last council spot (some news reports originally stated that the advanced polls were yet to be counted, but Frances Bula later confirmed that the 18,000 votes were included in the poll-by-poll website).

The take-home message is that, three years after 2008, the electoral scene remains largely unchanged, only with COPE faring somewhat more poorly. How do we make sense of this? How did it happen — or how did change not happen?

1. A big lesson from the past month is that you need a mayoral candidate and a strong slate in order to be part of the election process. The corporate media framed the election as a duel between the mayoral candidates. This meant that COPE received very little air time, either in terms of branding or policies. As a result, COPE candidates suffered at the polling stations, and the people of Vancouver suffered for not having any substantive policy discussions over the past month. Also, running so few candidates made COPE appear marginal, comparable to Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) and other secondary parties, rather than as a serious contender. This is especially true for first-time voters, who guessed (wrongly) that COPE has a small base.

2. COPE supporters voted for Robertson and Vision, but not vice versa. The results here are clear-cut and shocking. While COPE appeared to pull its historic base of 40,000 voters, it seems that Vision’s base of about 30,000 almost completely ignored COPE. This tragic case of unrequited love allowed Vision to dominate absolutely, trouncing the other parties, and leaving COPE feeling rejected and dumped — at COPE’s election after-party, the sentiment could be heard everywhere: “But I thought Gregor liked us!” Of course, by no means can the blame for COPE’s poor showing be placed enitirely at the doorstep of Vision; but nor should there be any illusions about Vision’s lack of solidarity with COPE.

3. Already Vision pundits are blaming third parties like NSV for COPE’s defeat. The numbers prove beyond a doubt that this is untrue. COPE’s most painful losses were on School Board and Parks Board, where there were no NSV candidates at all. Vision’s electoral machine seems to have completely thrown these COPE school and parks candidates under the bus. There are no third parties to blame here.

4. COPE is not in an unusual situation. Across Canada, and the world, wherever there is a strong centrist Liberal party, truly progressive parties often live in the shadows. In central and eastern Canada, the history of the NDP is the history stubborn commitment in the face of relentless defeat. There, as here, Liberal parties campaign from the left and govern from the right. Only rarely, and after years of building a base, can labour parties expose and break through this liberal sleight-of-hand. Make no mistake, Vision is Vancouver’s Liberal Party run by highly skilled and patently successful political operatives. The sooner Vancouver’s parliamentary left faces the fact that Vision is a top-down Liberal machine aimed at exploiting the left, the better. Better for morale, because we realize there’s nothing exceptional about the situation. And better for justice, because only after making an accurate diagnosis may we make the right prescription, and organize to win.

5. Too many working-class people stayed home. Vancouver is a working-class town, with a median household income of only $35,000 and with a population of over 50% renters — far more than any other city in the Lower Mainland. Meanwhile, the cost-of-living is through-the-roof. With these demographics, and with this inequality, Vancouver should have a downright socialist majority — as do many other similar cities. But it seems that most of these folks did not feel inspired enough to vote. Ellen Woodsworth stated explicitly after hearing the results: “progressives stayed home.”

6. Poor people who were inspired to vote were turned away at the polls. COPE campaign manager Nathan Allan alleged on Sunday that Downtown Eastside residents who had no fixed addressed were questioned by NPA scrutineers and later turned away at the polls. In an interview with David P. Ball from the Vancouver Observer, Allan stated, “Scrutineers on behalf of NPA created enough tension so [city] officials erred on the side of disenfranchising people…[The NPA] frustrated the vote by making the lines long and the process arduous — many people were not able to vote today.” Allan estimated that at least 50 people were turned away from the polls. The NPA denies the claim, and no city officials have been available to confirm the report. In the meantime, COPE is considering making an official complaint.