Fight for affordable housing in Vancouver intensifies as units sit empty

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Pressures for affordable housing continue to rise in Vancouver as the city saw two housing rallies take place over the weekend.

The first drew a crowd of 50 activists on Friday, who gathered outside of Vancouver's City Hall to demand that affordable housing be made a priority in the municipality. The rally was organized by COPE, the Coalition of Progressive Electors, which calls for investments in co-ops and social housing, zoning for rent controls and enforcement of health standards in buildings.

"We now have a two-tier housing market here," said Gayle Gavin, COPE member and one of the event's speakers. "We have a housing market for people who have a great deal of money and we have a housing market for the rest of us who can't afford to be in that housing market and that's becoming not just as buyers but more and more everyday as renters."

Meena Wong, COPE's mayoral candidate, also spoke to Friday's crowd, highlighting the need for local government action.

"It's up to us, the people. I believe the people in the democratic system are the masters," she said. "So we need to demand our government to focus on completing and perfecting our regulation or set it up so our local residents -- our citizens -- are protected and their livelihood are provided for with affordable housing."

On Saturday, a second housing rally took place outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Organized by Housing Action for Local Taxpayers (HALT), the event drew over 250 of supporters according to HALT's Facebook page.

"We're here because we're fed up," said Josh Gordon, a professor in Simon Fraser University's School of Public Policy to the crowd. "It's been going on too long, this housing affordability crisis. It's been bad in the past, and now it's even worse and so now we see action. We have the most unaffordable housing market Canada has ever seen. That's stunning, and there's a reason for that. We have renters paying record-high rates, and many people being evicted into desperate situations. Meanwhile, there are thousands and thousands of units that sit empty. That is wrong."

Formed only a few months ago, HALT is a non-partisan community group seeking action from Canada's government to address the country's current foreign money fuelled housing crisis. Saturday's rally was an effort to tell all levels of government that they've let the country's housing crisis go on for too long and to demand that governments work together.

"We live in a country where we'll spend ten thousand dollars a month for somebody if they end up in an emergency room or hospital bed, just to avoid spending a few hundred dollars a month for a social housing unit," said Kishone Roy, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association. "We'll spend $4,000 a month to lock somebody up in jail but we won't give them the stability of a home."

As these activist movements continue, the federal government is collecting public input on a national housing strategy until October 21. Several roundtables will take place before then to consult with vulnerable groups including Indigenous and Northern communities.

Despite the fact that these two rallies took place separately over the weekend, COPE member Wilson Munoz called upon concerned citizens to work together if they want to see change in the current housing crisis.

"We need people to come together," he said. "We need people to realize that if we don't mobilize, if we don't work together, if we don't make a stand, if we are not united, nothing is going to happen."


Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen's University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen's News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She was rabble's 2015-16 news intern.

Photos: Alyse Kotyk

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