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Partial victory for renters, more to come

Rally against the rent hikes organized by the Vancouver Tenants Union
By: 
Ryan Schebek

October 1, 2018

September 24, 2018 marks a small but important victory for renters throughout British Columbia. Despite this partial victory, battle for an affordable city is far from over.
 
Earlier this year the Residential Tenancy Branch announced that the legal limit allowable for rental increases will jump from 4 to 4.5%. In Vancouver the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now more than $2,000. The proposed increase would have been over a $1,000 a year. It is decisions like this from the provincial and municipal governments that have created the housing crisis. Homelessness is rising to new levels. Many are finding Vancouver so unaffordable they are moving to distant cities or are sticking around to live pay cheque to pay cheque (By now one in five renters in Vancouver spends at least half of their income on rent).
 
The victory for renters arrived when, two and a half weeks after the announcement to raise rents by 4.5%, the provincial government backed down and reduced that number by 2%. They now propose, after pressure from below, that the most a landlord can raise rents is 2.5%.
 
Derrick O’Keefe, one of the COPE candidates for Vancouver City Council explained that, “It’s good that the province is reducing the annual allowable increase and it shows that tenant power works. This change is a result of pressure from COPE’s campaign for a Rent Freeze and the work of others, like the Vancouver Tenants Union and BCGEU, pushing for tenants’ rights and protections.”
 
COPE, the Coalition of Progressive Electors, is a long time municipal party currently running three candidates for the October 20 municipal election. They are Jean Swanson, Anne Roberts and Derrick O’Keefe. For roughly one year COPE has been campaigning on a platform that is demanding a rent freeze to help cool the market and protect renters immediately. They describe their platform as movement building. Slogans like “rent freeze” and “mansion tax” are slowly becoming something people can rally behind and help reaffirm their ability to intervene in political issues. These slogans are becoming commonplace demands that make any change to rental rates, that isn’t 0%, look like half-baked concession to landlords.
 
The pressure they have put on the provincial government has worked. As Anne Roberts summarized: “This is a good first step, but it’s just the beginning, COPE will keep fighting for a 0% rent increase for four years in Vancouver. If the province won’t act, COPE will direct city staff to make a four year rent freeze a requirement of landlords’ business licenses. After four years we can reassess and see it it’s still needed, but for now protecting tenants should be our first priority.”
 
The decease to 2.5% is also only a partial victory, not addressing loopholes like “reno-viction” where landlords can evict tenants to make renovations and then raise rents as much as the market will bear. As well, wages have stayed the same despite rising rents. As anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson explained, “It’s still a huge problem that the province is allowing landlords to raise rents as much as they like when tenants leave or are evicted. By refusing to plug this loophole the province is not only contributing to higher rents, but also ensuring that evictions can be profitable. It means that long term tenants have no tenant security because landlords can raise rents if they get rid of tenants. If necessary, COPE will use the city’s business licensing powers to plug that loophole as well.”
 
Without a movement against rent increases, the 4.5% increase would have gone unchallenged. In the upcoming Vancouver election, only COPE is running to implement a rent freeze. Their strategy of allying themselves with the Vancouver Tenants Union and using the election campaign to build a movement means that we have a chance of winning a rent freeze.
 
You can help: go to votecope2018.ca to get involved.

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