Most of the few remaining rights and affordable housing that tenants have in British Columbia were earned by working class activists and renters in the 1970s. This piece, written in 1981 by former housing activist and COPE City Councilor Bruce Yorke, provides some insight into the local past. It documents struggles that won tangible victories in the late ’60s and ’70s, while hinting at how new ground can be won today. In the context of unending evictions, a neoliberal municipal government, and a right-shifting provincial NDP under Adrian Dix, tenants must now more than ever take to the streets, organize buildings, and look land-owning interests straight in the eyes.
The pioneer and leader of the tenants’ movement in B.C. was the Vancouver Tenant Council established in 1968. This was an individual membership organization with membership dues at $2.00 a year. The fees were used to set up an office with a phone.
In August, 1968, we held our first meeting of tenants. It was at the Driftwood apartment in Kitsilano. I took the initiative in calling that meeting. The main issue disturbing tenants was a 5% increase in rents imposed on very short notice, plus a rather insulting letter from Block Brothers.
The meeting was held at Kitsilano Beach. About 75 tenants attended. Alderman Harry Rankin was also there and gave us his support.
The media coverage of this meeting created a lot of interest and led to many telephone enquiries.
We didn’t win that battle but we did establish the fact that tenants were determined to get organized and make their voices heard.