Today, City inspectors arrived unannounced to the Ming Sun Benevolent Association building and performed an inspection. The building, containing affordable housing, the artist collective Instant Coffee, and artist studio spaces for low-income Chinese seniors at 439 Powell has been under ongoing threat of demolition. The threat continues despite the fact that “several independent structural reports stated that the Ming Sun Building is structurally sound,” according to activists who have been fighting to save the site.
Several people who have been working to save the building had arrived early to perform repairs on the building, but were surprised by the arrival of City staff, sparking concerns that the building would be demolished immediately.
The concerns were amplified when at least a dozen vehicles from Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services arrived on the scene with lights flashing.
A coalition of citizens, called “Friends of 439,” has formed to preserve the building. This morning about a dozen concerned supporters of the building converged at 439 Powell to keep watch over the property.
For five years, Vision councillors have argued that the City of Vancouver can’t use its own powers to build and protect affordable housing. Councillor Geoff Meggs has reiterated to The Tyee this week that threats to affordable rental housing are “beyond city hall’s control.” Despite their refusal to publicly criticize the provincial government, Vision has maintained that social housing and rent control are each the sole jurisdictions of senior governments.
Critics have often cited municipal housing authorities and rent control boards in cities like Toronto, New York and Vienna. It has often been pointed out that Vancouver too has a housing authority – something few people know about because city council has allowed it to remain dormant since being elected in 2008.
In response to these criticisms, Vision councillors have played the “jurisdictional” card, passing the buck to other levels of government. According to Vision, “the city gets blamed for the problem when the powers to fix it lie with the provincial government.” Yet the Mayor has been supportive of the BC Liberal government since being elected in 2008. Not once has Robertson or council publicly called on the Province to increase funding for housing or change the Residential Tenancy Act. At the end of the day, the main financial backers of Vision also control BC Housing and are the main BC Liberals donors.
Last week, Vision Vancouver city councilor Geoff Meggs wrote an opinion piece for The Tyee claiming that City Hall is taking bold steps to address the rental housing crisis.
These claims are difficult to accept given that the situation for renters in Vancouver has worsened since the election of Gregor Robertson in 2008. Rents have increased steadily, by 15% over the past four years.
Since 2008, the number of low-income households in Vancouver has decreased by 18%. This is not because wages are increasing, but rather because service sector workers and their jobs have been forced out of the city.
Similarly, public school enrollment has been decreasing steadily at 2% per year, even though private school enrolment hasn’t increased. According to the Vancouver School Board, the main reason families are leaving is that they can no longer afford the cost-of-living. As school funding is tied to the number of students, this has a devastating impact on the school board budget. The Vancouver School Board is now locked into a perpetual crisis of cut-backs, layoffs, and school closures.
The impacts of Meggs’ high-cost market rental buildings
The costs of the affordability crisis are widely acknowledged, and the effects are felt by renters every day. But the reality that our affordable housing stock is being eroded under Vision Vancouver needs to be placed front-and-centre. For years Meggs has argued that only the free market can bring housing affordability. Not only are the market rental units championed by Meggs high-cost (a discussion of the cost of new market housing was published in today’s Tyee), but each new development will have have a net negative effect on the affordable neighbourhoods they are part of. This is for a simple reason: the glaring loophole in the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA).
Social Housing Coalition BC statement on BC Liberal and NDP housing platforms, written from unceded Coast Salish Territory
On Wednesday, April 24th, the BC NDP released its platform statement on housing. Consistent with the party’s position on welfare rates, there is very little in the Platform for low-income people. While the BC Liberal platform is completely silent on social housing and welfare rates, the NDP platform promises are woefully inadequate.
During the current tenure of the BC Liberals, homelessness and the acute housing crisis has expanded considerably. From 2002 until 2010 homelessness in Vancouver nearly tripled to 1,713, and throughout the province over 10,000 people are visibly homeless. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are tens of thousands of people among the “hidden” homeless and over 65,000 are at risk of homelessness, paying above 50% of their income for rent, often for inadequate and insecure housing.