Supportive housing tenants win important gains after forming a tenant action group

In February, tenants of a supportive building in the Lower Mainland run by Elizabeth Fry Society, started to meet to talk about their experiences in the building. Nicole, who spearheaded the meetings said they found that they all felt that the management’s “punitive methods of controlling residents [has] left us stripped of our dignity, and treated like children, locked up and controlled.” They started organizing together and after just over a month of struggle, this ad hoc group has managed to stop an illegal eviction and overturn some of the policies that violated residents’ tenant rights. 

Nicole initiated the meetings after reading about a victory against a guest ban policy in a Maple Ridge supportive housing building. She photocopied the newspaper article and distributed it to the 44 units of her building, talking to her neighbours about getting a lawyer to fight the abusive rules put in place by Elizabeth Fry staff. 

Like many supportive housing operators, Elizabeth Fry instituted a ban of guests since opening the building, limited residents to two bags of belongings, and threatened illegal “immediate” evictions and lockouts at the discretion of staff. Their building opened in September 2020, and in the six months since, Elizabeth Fry Society has already performed multiple evictions. 

A week after the tenants’ first meeting, Nicole called the Eviction Defence Network (EDN) in panic. Her neighbour Alannah had received an eviction notice “effective immediately.” Staff were at her door, demanding she leave the building at once. The reason? She’d brought home a machete for her safety. But she said that she had good reason to take steps to protect herself. The last time staff locked her out of the building she suffered injuries after being attacked while she was stuck sleeping outside. 

While Alannah locked herself in her unit, refusing the staff’s eviction order, two EDN flying squad members made their way to the building. Another called the management, telling them the eviction notice Alannah received was illegal. Like all tenants in British Columbia, including residents of supportive housing, Alannah’s tenancy is covered under the Province’s Residential Tenancy Act and she cannot be evicted without due process.

Thanks to the combination of her resistance and the pressure from outside the building, Elizabeth Fry Society backed off and Alannah got to stay in her unit. 

Following their successful anti-eviction defence, residents met again outside the building with EDN members. They worked on a collective letter to management, which residents had already been circulating through the building. By the end of the meeting they had formed aTenant Committee and developed a set of demands: for Elizabeth Fry Society to recognize their tenant rights under the Tenancy Act, for the staff to stop blocking residents from bringing their belongings into the building, for the end of the guest ban and illegal evictions threats, and to stop policing people’s belongings by only allowing them two bags of items. 

Once printed, a resident of the building delivered the letter to the management. Talking outside, the rest of the group looked over the letter, which ended on a hopeful note about the landlord’s response. “We look forward to tearing up our previous agreements and working on a living agreement that includes our tenancy rights, restoring our dignity,” it said.

A response came two days later. Instead of acknowledging theirTenant Committee, which worked on and signed the letter, Elizabeth Fry Society addressed its response to a single tenant. Additionally, the landlord had not respected the group’s main demand, that residents be recognized as tenants under the Tenancy Act. In one resident’s own word, “they didn’t listen. The Premier refers to us as the ‘most vulnerable,’ but they won’t do nothing about the emotional trauma they are causing us.” 

Yet, the letter did give-in on two points, which are small victories for the Tenant Committee. Elizabeth Fry Society cancelled the arbitrary two-bag limit of possessions that residents can bring into their suites. Secondly, the landlord lifted the building-wide gust ban, allowing residents a “2 person bubble.” The Residential Tenancy Act does not allow landlords to restrict guests, within reason, and the pandemic-era Provincial Health Order does not increase landlords powers, so restricting residents to two guests is also unlawful. But against the arbitrary power of the Supportive Housing system, breaking a total guest ban should be considered a victory.

Two weeks after Elizabeth Fry Society’s reply, the majority of the building has not heard about the change in rules. The next steps for the tenant committee will be to share the new information and continue to organize to win their remaining demands: against evictions in the building, for an end to the landlord’s restrictions over residents’ guests, and to have their tenants’ rights be recognized and respected by their landlord.

As a member of the building’s Tenants Committee shared, “the government is just warehousing people by building supportive housing. They want us out of sight, out of mind.” This first response is a small win that brings supportive housing tenants’ rights and power into sight. This victory, and those to come, is gained through the organization of residents and their willingness to fight for justice!

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