WEST VANCOUVER, UNCEDED COAST SALISH TERRITORIES: On Wednesday August 6th, Downtown Eastside residents evicted from gentrified hotels, Oppenheimer homeless campers, and housing advocates held a news conference in front of the multi-million dollar mansion of Vancouver’s most notorious gentrifying landlord.
Social Housing Alliance organizer Natalie Knight opened the news conference saying, “This year the BC Liberal government made two announcements about housing: first, that they will no longer build social housing. And second, that they will increase their private rent supplement programs.” Gesturing at the mass of concrete construction for the $4.5million mansion nestled in the hills of the British Properties, she said, “Weak rent controls that allow landlords like Steven Lippman to do mass evictions and double rents combined with private rent subsidies for those same landlords means the BC government is funneling money to the wallets of rich landlords to build mega mansions like the one Steven Lippman is building here for himself.”
Blair Hewitt, a former resident of a Downtown Eastside hotel bought by Lippman called his former landlord a “serial evictor” who stands to profit off BC Housing’s private subsidy program. He said, “Lippman bought Thornton Park Hotel in late 2013, and through loopholes in BC rent laws he has evicted or pressured out nearly all the low-income tenants who lived there. He tried to evict me and failed but pressured me out with constant construction noise and harassment. Now the rooms go for nearly twice what they were renting at before. Where did those tenants go?”
Nora Hanuse from Aboriginal Front Door Society knows they are not moving into all the new towers popping up beside renovated hotels. “There is lots of construction happening in the Downtown Eastside,” she said. “There are new homes where none of our people can afford to live and new restaurants where none of our people can afford to eat.”
Oppenheimer Park homeless camp organizer Audrey Siegl, of the Musqueam nation, has an idea where they go, “This year’s homeless count was the highest in the history of Vancouver; people are on the streets because they got thrown out of those hotel rooms. The government is not taking care of the people,” Siegl said. “The homeless people, the people living in Oppenheimer Park are human beings who are being forced to live in subhuman conditions. And many of these people are Indigenous people who have been pushed around and displaced for 500 years. Instead of accepting another displacement, we’re here standing up united.” The Oppenheimer Tent City is calling for City Hall to buy 20 properties in the DTES as social housing to stop this displacement.
About BC Housing’s move to give landlords rent supplements instead of building social housing, Carnegie Community Action Project organizer Tamara Herman says BC Minister of Housing Rich Coleman’s math doesn’t work. “Rich Coleman says that rent supplements are cheaper than social housing. The problem is his numbers don’t add up. The sum total for social housing is lower than the $5000/year Coleman says rent supplements cost for each family. What Coleman means when he says that rent supplements are cheaper is that they’re a smaller initial investment for his government, which is looking only at its 4-year term in office, but an exponential loss in the long-term for the rest of BC.”
So who benefits? Herman says, “The windfall for landlords like Lippman goes beyond the rent supplements that are poured into their pockets each month. Rent supplements can raise the value of their properties and eliminate lower rent competition in a neighbourhood, pushing market rents up even higher and more lower-income people into the street. Rent supplements are a cosmetic band aid on the most serious housing crisis BC has ever known, covering it up and making it worse.”
As West Vancouver police lurked anxiously behind the news cameras and construction crews worked on the massive, double lot pillared mansion, Natalie Knight from the Social Housing Alliance, gestured again at the massive house being built off the proceeds of gentrification and the promises of government rent subsidies. She said, “People facing homelessness and displacement don’t see action on building the housing we need. The action we see is here – Lippman’s $4.5million mansion construction project is what government action on homelessness looks like.”
To end the displacement and homelessness crisis, the Social Housing Alliance is calling on BC Housing to commit to building 10,000 units of low-income affordable social housing every year in BC, and for rent controls between tenancies to stop mass evictions.
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