SROs emptied for hip housing, DTES residents left in the cold

The numbers from the 2014 Metro Vancouver homeless count are in. In one 24-hour period, 538 people in Vancouver were found living on the streets without a home.

Notice received by Thornton Park hotel tenants demanding demanding excessive amounts for lost mail keys and fobs
Notice received by Thornton Park hotel tenants demanding demanding excessive amounts for lost mail keys and fobs

The City itself admits that this increase is partly due to the loss of affordable Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) rooms and delays in opening new social housing.

With social housing in jeopardy and the City’s new 30-year Local Area Plan opening up the Downtown Eastside for development, longtime DTES residents are being evicted from the remaining affordable SROs at an alarming rate.

Increased market development in the DTES is fueling the controversial process of converting SROs from low-income housing into ‘student’, ‘artist’, or ‘hip’ downtown dwellings. Landlords use a variety of tactics to evict long-term low-income residents in order to do basic repairs like painting, and then raise the rent by $100 to $200 per month. This process is commonly called “renovictions.”

The outcome of these renovictions is that people on welfare and disability are no longer welcome as renters. Rents skyrocket well above what someone on welfare can afford and people are screened out because they are no longer seen as a good “fit” for the building. As a result, fewer and fewer SRO rooms are available to the DTES community of people.

The law in British Columbia clearly states that it is discrimination to deny someone rental housing based on their lawful source of income – including welfare and disability. But as the DTES gentrifies, landlords have the opportunity to make a lot of money by refusing to rent to people on welfare or disability income.

There are corporations that own SROs in the DTES using tactics to renovict long-term residents, which may discriminate against people on welfare or disability income. The York Rooms, Thornton Park and the Station SROs are all examples of how the process of renovicting low-income residents is occurring. A new landlord – in the case of these hotels the new owners are all connected to a business called “Living Balance” – buy an SRO and begin renovations, quickly emptying out most of the current residents.

The patterns of renovictions in these SROs include tactics such as issuing the same eviction notices on several residents at the same time, accusing them all of the same thing, for example: being “dirty” and bringing in pests, and being or becoming a “danger” to the building. The landlord is also reported to bring in new middle-class tenants and use those new tenants to make noise complaints against low-income residents.

More subtle tactics include pressuring tenants into moving out voluntarily. Many tenants agree to move out based on the fear that if they do not agree, they will be evicted. We believe that agreeing to give up your home when you are under threat of eviction is not a real agreement and would not stand up to a legal challenge.

Tenants report that this landlord also uses excessive construction noise to make tenancy unbearable, creates rules that tenants cannot follow like banning people from bringing in recyclables, and imposes high-cost barriers like $50 door fobs to make tenancy impossible for anyone on welfare.

The City and the Province have failed to protect SRO tenants. Challenging evictions on an individual basis has not slowed the renovictions down and new development in the DTES only encourages landowners to discriminate against longtime residents in order to profit from rapidly increasing land values.

If you have been affected by renovictions from the buildings owned by Steven Lippman and Living Balance (see the list in the centerfold of this paper), please attend a residents’ meeting at 5:30pm every Sunday in the 3rd floor meeting room of the Carnegie Community Centre.

DJ Larkin is a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society. Her work focuses on housing justice.

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