Gentrification is Everyone’s Fight
Organizers with the Vancouver Renters’ Union have recently discovered what many people living in the Downtown Eastside have known for years: there aren’t adequate protections in the Residential Tenancy Act for tenants who face evictions and rent increases. Rents continue to rise faster than incomes throughout the city, and fastest in those areas of Vancouver facing gentrification.
The ability for renters to address their issues is restricted by a legal, social, and economic system that privileges landlords, and that keeps renters divided. The Renters’ Union believes that solidarity is the only way to change this situation. A united movement of renters can stop unjust rent increases and gentrification.
Many people living in Vancouver think that gentrification is unique to the Downtown Eastside. In reality gentrification affects the whole city. The Renters’ Union is currently organizing with tenants at Heather Place in Fairview, Lions Manor in Mount Pleasant, and Aquilini’s 1850 Adanac building in Grandview-Woodlands, to name a few hotspots. In each case, affordable housing is being threatened by renovictions and needless demolitions by landlords who want to bring in higher income people.
What is Gentrification?
“Gentrification” is when developers buy a neighborhood and re-sell it at a higher price. Gentrification’s simple slogan is: ‘Buy low, sell high, evict the people.’
Heather Place is a telling story for anyone wanting to get a peek into the logic of gentrification across the city. Heather Place is a housing complex of 86 affordable family homes, run and owned by the non-profit MetroVancouver Housing Corporation. Instead of investing in needed repairs, developer-backed city councillors have recently identified Heather Place as a site for demolition and condo development.
New “replacement” housing at Heather Place will cost more than twice the current rents. As project manager Don Littleford states: “It comes back to the question: Does everybody have a right to live where they want for the rent they want to pay, or not. I think the answer is no.”1 Squarely against Littleford, the Vancouver Renters’ Union affirms everyone’s right to the city. We believe that rental suites are homes, not commodities to be bought and sold.
When Don Littleford states that “growth and change cannot be stopped,”2 his real message is that it is too late to resist gentrification. In the Downtown Eastside this idea is echoed by Marc Townsend of the PHS, who famously said: “If people look at Woodward’s and think that it has initiated gentrification, they’re just twits who don’t really know what they’re talking about. Gentrification has come.”3
The Vancouver Renters’ Union has experienced gentrification for what it is: an ongoing process of displacement, resettlement and rent-extraction that puts renters in a continual loop of exploitation and poverty. There is no clear end in sight to this loop – no end, that is, except by the collective organizing of renters.
The sooner that renters across the city recognize their links with the experience of low-income renters in the Downtown Eastside, the sooner we can build a lasting social movement against the private development industry and its unjust political system.
1 Cheryl Rossi, “Housing complex tenant pans redevelopment plan,” The Vancouver Courier, September 24, 2010 2 Minutes from Meeting between Heather Place Tenants and Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation, July 21, 2011 3 Body Heat: The Story of the Woodward’s Redevelopment (Vancouver: Blueimprint, 2010), p.167