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Vancouver Olympics: City flunks out on tenant protection

Forced Evictions, Displacement, Olympics and other Mega-Events

Vancouver Olympics: City flunks out on tenant protection

Postby TenantNet » Thu Apr 30, 2009 6:27 pm

NEWS: City flunks out on tenant protection
04/30/2009 12:00 AM
By Jackie Wong
http://www.westender.com/articles/entry ... and-views/

Despite Vancouver City Council’s efforts to protect tenants from Olympics-related evictions, critics say council’s recent motion to curb unreasonable rent increases and involuntary displacement doesn’t go far enough. Am Johal, chair of Olympic watchdog group Impact on Communities Coalition (IOCC), expects thousands of mass evictions to take place between now and Games time.

“It won’t protect tenants,” Johal said of the motion that went before council April 9, part of which asks the provincial government to change the Residential Tenancy Act to prohibit evictions between September 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010. “There will still be hundreds of evictions — probably 1,000 or 2,000... It might create the conditions where in July and August mass evictions take place, so [landlords] can lease for a period of time and then have their places available during the Olympics.”

On April 19, the IOCC released its Olympic Oversight Interim Report Card, which suggests that VANOC and government partners have failed to live up to a number of social commitments that were originally part of the Olympic bid. The report card gave Olympic organizers a D-minus for their failure to adequately fulfill a number of civil liberties and social justice commitments laid out in the bid process, including tenant protection, ensuring freedom of expression during Games time, ensuring privacy rights among Vancouver residents, and the Olympic impact on homelessness.

“We do not have anything resembling a legacy of affordable housing,” says Pivot Legal Society housing campaign lawyer Laura Track, of the report. “This was part of Vancouver’s promise to the world when it bid on the Olympic Games, and that promise has been broken. It’s been broken to the citizens of Vancouver, of Canada, and to the international community who will come here and who will see the results of our failure to take care of our most vulnerable citizens here in Vancouver.”

Part of the problem with protecting renters during Games time lies with the individual experiences of Olympic organizers, says Kris Olds, a former Vancouver city planner who completed a master’s thesis on mass evictions related to Expo 86. Olds is now a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Little is put into place to genuinely protect renters, as those in charge of the political process and the mega-event-development process are almost all home owners; they have no or little experience with the situation, given the infrequency of hosting such events...,” he told WE. “[And] they are typically part of the pro-growth urban redevelopment ‘machine,’ so they see much more value in facilitating urban change that benefits the wealthy, including themselves. It is no secret that the Olympics are a billion-dollar excuse for urban and regional redevelopment.”

Olds contends that individuals and political parties in power “do not take the evictions issue seriously” as they relate to the Olympics. Even so, he says, it’s a false argument to blame the Games for everything. “The Olympics play a contributory and acceleratory role in spurring on urban change, including generating turmoil in rental markets. The negative effects of this turmoil can be mediated if the host city’s elites really wanted to. But they tend not to... They prefer the inverse, as the displacement patterns show in Games after Games after Games.”

As it stands in Vancouver, little, if any, tracking mechanism for evictions is in place. The IOCC report card points out that the Residential Tenancy Branch and the City of Vancouver’s Social Planning Department do not adequately monitor rental evictions, so it is difficult to determine the extent and scope of the problem. Meanwhile, loopholes in the Residential Tenancy Act mean that landlords can issue exorbitant rent increases to tenants, which tenants’ rights advocates say is a means to evict tenants through indirect financial pressure.

Last week, tenants of the West End’s Seafield apartment building received a decision from their arbitration with the Residential Tenancy Branch: nine of the building’s 14 suites are facing rent hikes lower than the 73 per cent originally asked for by the building’s new landlords, but, following the decision, the building’s most senior tenants will now face a 38 per cent rent increase. “That means the end of rent control in B.C.,” says Renters at Risk co-founder Sharon Isaak. “We need accommodation for 350,000 people, supposedly, for the Olympics, and we’re going to see evictions because of that.”
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