Why the whole city should be excited about council’s commitment to protect tenants.
Vancouver’s new four-party council was thrown into the city’s worst housing crisis—yet it only took the group four weeks to unanimously commit to protect tenants' rights while finding a solution. They’re sending a clear message to the entire population they govern—that, despite multiple party divides and a lack of visible cultural diversity, they are good listeners, fast learners and change makers. After COPE councillor Jean Swanson’s motion to protect tenants from renovictions and aggressive buyouts passed in a unanimous vote, several council members credited the impressive level of civic engagement for its success. “I was prepared not to support this motion, but now, after hearing from dozens of speakers, I’m compelled to support it,” said Green councillor Pete Fry. “It’s depressing to hear how some of our vulnerable tenants are being treated in this city.” The message those 56 speakers sent to city council is worth noting for all Vancouverites, be they part of the 50 percent of the population that pays rent or otherwise: there are levels of activism that are accessible, respectful and effective. While tenant turned activist Andre Duchene is rallying against being renovicted from the Berkeley Towers, he considers himself lucky. “We’re well connected, well organized, well educated—we’re the best case scenario,” said Ducheme of the tenants who have banded together in his West End residence. “There are people alone—seniors, people less educated—without support or who are one pay cheque away from being homeless.” Ducheme has the privilege of choosing to deny eviction compensation from Reliance Properties, who he believes are disguising cosmetic enhancements as measures to preserve Berkeley Towers. “A lot of this is proactive defence,” Ducheme said. “It’s about those people with no time or resources, the people who aren’t at city hall and are scared out of minds.” Those people, Swanson argued, don’t have three more months to wait for staff to review the legal ramifications of two parts of the motion. Only Swanson and One City councillor Christine Boyle voted against two amendments. Staff have until the first quarter of 2019 to look into how renters and rental stock may be impacted by proposed changes to current policies. They were also given that time to assess whether the province can make amendments to Vancouver’s city charter that would impose vacancy control or if they should take actions themselves. “The motion has only been enhanced,” mayor Kennedy Stewart said. “It’s important for us to support the parts that we can get moving right away, and when we say we need more information it’s in the spirit of the motion.” Hopefully, the spirit of this motion is contagious. It produced an atmosphere in the chamber where mayor Stewart felt comfortable offering to “sing a little” while councillor Carr circulated her amendment to staff. The motion encouraged Ducheme to work with the Vancouver Tenants Union to create educational pamphlets to distribute to tenants on their rights. It encouraged VTU to produce what Swanson called the most impressive level of organization she’s seen after 40 years in politics. And while spirited disagreement was still a plenty—the sound of a packed council chamber applauding various council members from different parties rang louder than the occasional boos.