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.
Yesterday Vision Vancouver released its final report on Housing Affordability in Vancouver. Shortly after being elected for a second term, Vision created an Affordability Task Force to address issues of housing affordability. The high-profile Task Force was co-chaired by the Mayor and right wing millionaire developer Olga Ilich, a former member of Gordon Campbell’s cabinet. The remaining members were comprised of fourteen Vision appointees drawn from the development industry: prominent developers, landlord lobbyists and industry insiders. Not a single renter or renter representative was appointed to the Task Force, despite the fact that renters — making up 55% of the city’s population — are the worst affected by the housing crisis.
For a long time Vancouver elites have struggled to square the circle of how to produce housing affordability without negatively affecting developer profits and property owners’ interests. The Task Force has proved no different in encountering this clash between ideal and reality, vexed by the challenge of balancing profitability with public anger about the housing crisis. That contradiction is the sharp rock upon which the Task Force is now shipwrecked. Despite Olga Ilich’s statement that “the biggest cost in Vancouver is the cost of land,” the Mayor admitted yesterday to the Province that he “doesn’t see the affordability plan having a broad impact on land values in Vancouver.”
The final recommendations of the Task Force show little advance from the neoliberal recommendations offered in the interim recommendations of last March. The first, and arguably the most disastrous for deregulating the private housing market, is a recommendation that planners abandon the city’s Inclusionary Zoning requirements. “The City’s current inclusionary zoning policy requires developers to set aside 20% of land for affordable housing,” the report states. “While this approach creates the opportunity for affordable housing development…a different approach will be needed to deliver affordability.”
Current city by-laws require 20% non-market housing in all new large-scale development projects, as well as in the DEOD (Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District). This year, however, inclusionary zoning policies have already been flouted by major city council decisions, including 800 Griffiths Way, “market rent” social housing at 955 East Hastings, and the decision to rent “social housing” for $900 per month at Sequel 138 Pantages redevelopment. The Task Force recommendation goes a step further in pushing council to put the deregulation approach into writing, thereby further lowering the bar for maintaining safeguards against privatization. The Mainlander has warned as far back as January 2011 that Vision Vancouver was planning to remove inclusionary zoning in Vancouver. This proposal will only make Vancouver more unaffordable for the long-term.
EDITORIAL INTRODUCTION| The first part of Nathan Crompton’s three-part essay introduced the history of anti-asian racism in Vancouver, while the second part focused on contemporary versions of scapegoating in Vancouver culture. But if racism and scapegoating are used to hide reality, the following essay asks a simpler question: what is the reality it hides? Behind the “empty signifiers” of culture and its discourses, what exactly is happening on the ground in Vancouver?
Despite constant invocations of “the Chinese” in debates on the housing crisis, a full third of all people living in poverty in Vancouver are Chinese. Today, in the shifting world of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, the gentrification of East Vancouver is in fact having its most direct effect on immigrants and racialized communities. Crompton draws from countless academic publications and recent demographic studies to reveal that the complex diversions of scapegoating conceal the racial and class divisions that define contemporary Vancouver.
Ground Zero: Mount Pleasant
The signs are difficult to ignore for anyone taking a walk down Main Street. Since at least 2008, the Mount Pleasant neighborhood has experienced a renewed wave of gentrification. Major shifts in the movement of capital have brought a sea-change in the number of rental apartments upgraded, renovicted, converted into strata condos, or altogether demolished to make way for new condo towers. High-end storefronts and promotional materials from the local BIA give an impression of a settled middle-class neighborhood, and the image depicted by local boosterism is slowly in the process of matching up with a new reality. But yet the hype also tells us surprisingly little about the neighborhood. At this stage of gentrification, image-making still lacks control over the world it might hope to represent. A vast majority of residents in the North Mount Pleasant area are renters (70%), most of them first and second-generation immigrants (58%). Despite being put in the unforgiving cross-hairs of gentrification, and despite superficial appearances suggesting urban lifestyle and conspicuous consumption, Mount Pleasant is today a proud and alive immigrant neighborhood.
EDITORAL INTRODUCTION | From the start, Vancouver has been marked by a history of racism against Chinese and Asian immigrants, a fact which few commentators can overlook (although not few enough, as this article demonstrates in its sharp critique of Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk). Part I of this three-part essay by Nathan Crompton reaches into contemporary Vancouver to find that despite the passage of time, original assumptions and archetypes of race and class have proven indispensable for an ongoing history of scapegoating – a history that has, according to Crompton, reached a peak in today’s discussion of housing in Vancouver. Far from signaling the simple break away from the city’s colonial past, the mystical real-estate economy proves fertile grounds for the re-capitulation of the time-tested logic of political scapegoating. This three-part essay is sure to have an impact not only for its use of historical and empirical research to blow the lid off assumptions that Vancouver’s housing crisis can be explained by Asian capital, but for its direct critique of household politicians and commentators. From Sandy Garossino to Gregor Robertson, few are spared in this militant clarion-call to move beyond the present by clearing out the skeletons of history.
At different points throughout the 125 years of its history, colonial Vancouver has blamed its problems on others. The relation between “citizens” and “foreigners” underlying the identity of Vancouver has been at times explosive – as when anti-Asian riots attacked Chinatown and Japantown in 1907. Flashpoints occurred again in the 1880s, the 1900s, the 1930s, the 1970s and 1990s, always with the same result: to draw up new lines of exclusion and discrimination while deepening the political disorientation of the times. At other moments the relationship has been segregated but passive, embedded in the habits and rituals of the city. Today, when it is assumed that xenophobic movements could not gain the same momentum as 100 years ago, the penchant to blame “foreigners” for local problems continues. In an assessment of contemporary Vancouver, Henry Yu once asked presciently, “is Vancouver the future or the past”? If the question reads like a riddle, it is because the answer is equally uncertain. As extreme-right movements today pick up momentum in Europe and elsewhere in the context of financial crisis and long-term economic stagnation, it is now more than ever that we should examine global and local histories of racism and xenophobia.
Fin de siècle Vancouver
There was recently a telling moment when Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk used his column to target Vancouver school board trustee, Allan Wong. Hasiuk attacked Wong for a motion put forward at the school board calling on the province to incorporate the history of British Columbians of Chinese descent into the regular provincial curriculum. Curriculum changes were not needed, according to Hasiuk, since there is already too much Chinese Canadian history taught in the secondary curriculum. Hasiuk moreover mocks the Head Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Canadian Pacific Railway as a “holy trinity” in both the curriculum and cultural memory of Vancouver.