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A plea for evidence on Olympics evictions, round-ups or displacement

September 9th, 2009 · 22 Comments

I had long planned to kick off September by issuing a challenge for reporters, activists, academics, politicians or someone to come up with some concrete evidence that homeless people are being shipped out of Vancouver to clean up the city for the Olympics or that those who are housed are being evicted to clear rooms for Olympic visitors.

The recent story about the Golden Crown evicting people from its rooms (the CBC’s version of that here) adds one more example to my file of stories that appear to show Olympics-related nastiness but actually don’t.

I’ve been hearing stories for at least two years now from both Vancouver and people around the province about what is allegedly going on. Someone who works on homelessness in Nanaimo told me back in 2006 or 2007 that Nanaimo was seeing an increase in homelessness because people were being chased out of Vancouver in preparation for the Olympics. A newspaper friend in Kamloops told me last year that people in Kamloops were convinced that the homeless there were increasing because they were being shipped out of Vancouver.

Homelessness advocates in Vancouver have occasionally claimed here that people are being shipped out. And then there are the stories about people being evicted “because of the Olympics.”

But I’ve never seen anyone come up with any proof that anything more is going on that what has been happening in Vancouver for at least a decade, if not longer. And it’s doing a disservice to everyone by claiming that everytime a person gets on a Greyhound bus out of the city, that person is being “shipped out” for the Olympics or by claiming that every time some scuzzy landlord evicts someone that it’s “because of the Olympics.”

For as long as I’ve covered Vancouver, homeless people or people in the Downtown Eastside have been offered bus tickets back to where  they’re from by social service agencies here if they express a desire to get out of their current situation and reconnect with family or a hometown. In one memorable incident, a Carnegie Centre outreach worker gathered money from drug dealers working the corner to help send a young woman back to Kamloops. (Her rationale to them was, You’ve made a lot of money off these people, now it’s time to give back.)

Similarly, landlords have been pushing people out of their Downtown Eastside rooms for various reasons for at least the past decade as they’ve converted to backpacker hotels, “student residences” and the like. Some have even decided just to evict people and let the rooms stay empty, rather than have to deal with the clientele or city inspectors.

Advocates could do everyone a real service by gathering some durable proof that there has been any increase or change in this pattern due to the Olympics. Has the eviction rate gone up compared to past years? Have people been put on any buses out of the city against their will?

I realize that for people opposed to the Olympics per se, it’s convenient to blame everything that happens (the rain, the traffic, any rent increase) on the approaching Games. But it’s not scientific or believable to the vast majority of people in Vancouver, although it generates suitably alarmist headlines for those already inclined to suspect the worst.

None of this is to deny anything about the dire situation in Vancouver for the people who are either already homeless, on the verge of it, or living in the city’s crummy residential hotels and low-rent apartments. That is a horrifying problem that hits me anew every time I travel through this city and, although the province has turned the burner onto high in recent years to deal with it, their efforts haven’t been enough to mitigate the situation they allowed to develop.

But trying to attach that ongoing problem to the Olympics is dishonest.

I am very prepared to be proven wrong. If anyone can provide me with something more than an unsubstantiated claim, I’d be happy to publicize it far and wide.

I’m waiting.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Frothingham

    “Residents of a vermin-infested hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside say their landlord is trying to evict them to make room for Olympic business.” …

    Oh yeah.. i am sure folks from around the world are clamouring for these rooms.

    Prediction: There is not going to be a dearth of accommodations in 2010. And businesses that are counting on boatloads of visitors will be greatly disappointed.

  • Joe Just Joe

    The COV released stats last year busting the myth of a reduction of SROs, it showed that they were in fact increasing. I will try and find the link if anyone wants.
    The fact is the games are only 2 weeks long, no sane business person is going to lose a long term tenant spend $1000s renovating rooms and common area, to attempt to make a buck, the economics are not there even if they could find someone to pay 10x the normal going rate they’d still be in the red. Besides most people that are flying into Vancouver for the games are unlikely to stay at any SRO no matter if it’s been prettied up.
    I beleive you are spot on about people looking to pin everything wrong on the olympics, just like there are some that are attempting to pin all that is good on the olympics. At the end of the day they will come and go and the city won’t be much different then it was before.

  • Fred

    The DTE is being gentrified one new building, one new store, one new restaurant, one block at a time. In 10 years it won’t exist as we now know it. It is reverting back to the great family neighborhood it was up until the 60’s. I hope they bring back the neon.

    The land is far too valuable to be given over to the Hell’s Angels and their drug empire. Despite the bleatings of our Progressive crowd, the DTE is not a Community. It is a giant magnet for distressed, sick and drug addicted people from around the Province who see it as a convenient place to get free everything and easy drug delivery.

    The DTE has become the Walmart of drugs and social degradation. The vast majority of the current DTE population comes from elsewhere and they will return to their homes when the party is over.

    It is over, they just don’t know it yet. Economics will prevail over Progressive Socialist ideology. The centralized DTE poverty industry will end and return to a distributed model based on where people come from, nit where they drifted to.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Here is the link I mentioned, I’m sure Frances has seen it before but perhaps other readers will enjoy it.

    http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/housing/pdf/dtes08jun9housingstock.pdf

  • It is hard to know what the real situation on evictions is as the RTB does not track evictions. Landlords have to use a RTB form for evictions, but does not track actual evictions unless the tenant files for arbitration. How does anyone know or study the issue if the Provincial Agency that is responsible for the legislation does not know and is not tracking evictions?

    Perhaps it is a good question for the Minister responsible for housing why his ministry does not track evictions? If I were the Minister I would want to know if there was a problem with folks being evicted and what the rate was and if it was changing. Another good question is why is this data collecting be left to community groups with little capacity to do the job.

    To ask the question the other way: how does anyone know that evictions are not happening because of the Olympics if there is no objective data to ground the answer to the question?

  • David

    The most marginalized are frequently kicked out of hotels for a variety of reasons. None of these will be written up as to make way for development or the Olympics. Just because you don’t have a source doesn’t mean it is/isn’t happening. It just means that it is non reported as such. As 2010 Olympics near, housing campaigner highlights evictions
    By Carlito Pablo

    With the 2010 Olympics drawing closer, the Impact on Community Coalition is asking B.C. ombudsman Kim Carter and auditor general John Doyle to consider keeping tabs on housing evictions.

    In a letter faxed to the offices of Carter and Doyle on July 6, coalition founder and chair Am Johal also suggested that the two recommend changes to the Residential Tenancy Act as soon as possible because these evictions are “totally preventable”.

    “Currently, the loophole related to renovations allows evictions to happen far too easily,” Johal wrote. “Recent changes by the City of Vancouver to allow temporary rental accommodations also have weak enforcement mechanisms.”

    In a phone interview, the community activist noted that neither the provincial government nor the city are monitoring evictions in the lead-up to the 2010 Games. “No one knows what the numbers are because no one is keeping an eye on these,” Johal told the Straight.

    B.C. Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman has rejected a city request to amend the RTA to prohibit evictions between June 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010, other than by reason of tenant default.

    In his letter, Johal recalled that the Inner City Inclusive Commitment Statement signed by the Olympics bid partners made clear promises about tenancy protections. But the partners, according to him, reneged on a pledge to fund a watchdog that would monitor compliance.

  • Tiktaalik

    With regards to the gentrification of the DTES, the wheels have been in motion long before the Olympics came to town.

    The concept that someone is going stay in a terrible SRO hotel for the Olympics is laughable, and the idea that all of a sudden these SRO hotel owners are going to be able to improve their buildings in time for the olympics at this point also seems unlikely to me.

    Folks are getting kicked out due to the changing nature of the neighbourhood sure, but to directly connect that to the Olympics, rather than a general movement toward gentrification, is I think false.

  • Frances Bula

    Brent,

    The problem with your argument is that then anyone — including pro-Olympics boosters claiming that the Olympics have helped the economy of the province — can make any kind of claim they happen to believe is true.

    It still leaves me with the problem of: Given that Vancouver has seen evictions and shutdowns of SROs for years, what evidence is there that the evictions and shutdowns occurring this year have anything to do with the Olympics? I agree that no one is going to issue a press release saying, “We’re booting people out because we want to make a profit on the Games.” However, you can’t just say that because the Games are in the proximity, that’s the cause.

  • I won’t argue with anyone that gentrification is stepping up big-time, or that the anticipated Woodwards ripple effect hasn’t caused a lot of recent changes. Nevertheless, you don’t need to wait for statistics to pop up on your computer screen to prove the systematic efforts at displacement in the DTES leading up to the Olympics. Go and take a walk around! You’d have to be blind or a newcomer to Vancouver to not notice the dramatic differences in the landscape over the last year.

    One of the most noticeable differences is the number of fences that have suddenly appeared all over the DTES. Key public gathering spaces like Oppenheimer Park have been fenced off and torn up, and now there’s a protest sign claiming: “A Fence Against our Neighbourhood.” Pigeon Park is also under renovation, and that whole block is fenced off for the Greenway construction. Across the street from the Army and Navy, half a block of Cordova was recently fenced off where a tent city had been for the last 3-4 years. Behind the now perpetually locked gate into Blood Alley are containers full of homeless people’s belongings seized by the police. The recently opened Koret condos gated off a central section of the public BC Rail right of way. Virtually every open alcove or doorway west of Main has now installed a locked gate to prevent people from sleeping there.

    Last time I checked, there are no stats being kept on how many feet of fencing has been put up, or how many cubic feet of public space has been annexed. But maybe someone more versed than me in sociology or urban planning can explain the cumulative effect of cutting off access to a large proportion of a neighbourhood’s public spaces?

    Just please don’t try to tell me it is a coincidence that this is all suddenly happening in the run-up to the Olympics, or that it is typical of anything that has occurred in the DTES over the past two decades.

  • Not Running for Mayor

    The oppenheimer Park and Pioneer Park upgrades have been planned since the last capital budget and envisioned since well before that, it is a complete stretch to even imply they have anything to do with the olympics. Pioneer Park for instance is getting upgraded by DCL money raised in the zoning of International Village, a development that began over 10yrs ago and is just completing now.
    As for the fences up at the Concord site at 58W Hastings you can thank current city bylaws that require all construction sites be cordoned off.
    The gates installed in front of the Deyas center on Cordova have also been in the works for a while, and that is the point of Frances post, anything and everything is going to be pinned on the Olympics as it’s easier then doing the research to see why it’s really being done.

  • Helesia Luke

    While I agree that evidence is important the potential exists, as it would in any city about to play host to a major event, that some people will see a financial opportunity no matter how irrational it may seem to others.

    By way of example, check out some of the postings on Craig’s list or house/apt rental sites and see the ridiculous prices some people are trying to get for an extra bedroom or suite. Granted they may not get any takers but who knows what steps they may take to vacate a suite in anticipation of fantasized revenue.

    City staff clearly think there may be issues and have funded a TRAC Tenant Assistance Worker.

    From the media release:
    “New Tenant Assistance Worker available to help tenants deal with 2010‐related evictions

    Tenants concerned they may be evicted to make room for 2010 Winter Games visitors now have a tenant assistance worker to help provide information and services.

    The tenant assistance worker is funded by the City of Vancouver as part of the temporary accommodation by‐law, which seeks to prevent possible Games‐related evictions.”
    Link: http://www.tenants.bc.ca/main/?cautions&newsidnew=17

    So, while some claims may be fantastical and clear data seems hard to come by, dismissing the possibility of Olympic-related evictions is also not helpful.

  • Excellent post and discussion. The only Olympic-related residential tenancy situation I’ve heard about from reliable sources (and am positive is true) is small-time landlords — like people who rent a small basement suite in their house — who have had their existing tenants move out independently, are looking for short term tenants until Feb 1, and then are marketing the suite as Olympic accommodation for a very high sum. And actually, I’ve only heard of two, both in the Commercial Drive area (where there are a lot of rental suites), although I’m sure there are more.

    I know a few people who rent to students during the academic year and then use their suite as a B&B during the summer, again for the higher income. I’m guessing some of these people have decided not to rent to students in the winter in favour of Olympic tenants.

    These small-time, anecdotal experiences do not a crisis make.

  • Chris

    I don’t know anyone living in SROs that have been evicted, but I have friends that live in an apartment across the street from GM Place (and have been there for 5 years) and have just been given their eviction notice. The landlord claims it is so his mother-in-law can move in, but we’re pretty sure it’s Olympics related.

  • I don’t think most people were expecting the Olympics to result in direct evictions. That is a lot of work for landlords for what, at best, could be a one month splurge.

    I think what people have primarily been arguing is that the Olympics has brought additional pressure to the Downtown Eastside’s gentrification and the city’s overheated (and unreasonable) rental market.

    Were the many evictions that have happened since Vancouver was awarded the Games going to happen regardless? Probably. But I think the Olympics helped sealed their fate.

    How? Because the Olympics have created even more real estate speculation in a city already feverishly sick with its land values. How does one prove that? Because it is on the lips of every land/home owner.

    The Olympics have given everyone the impression that their land will be even more inflated and justifies rent hikes and evictions. It has also given the city and developers an opportunity to say that the DTES must be “cleaned up” before the world tunes in to see what’s really going on.

    I doubt we will see the mass evictions and bus loads of homeless people that previous Games have brought, but the Olympics will change the DTES and the rest of the city—much like how Expo changed this city two decades earlier.

    Again, would this have happened if Vancouver didn’t win the Games? Probably. But it has certainly sped it up and the speed of the development has limited the debate about what kind of city we really want to have.

  • Blaffergassted

    Gentrification, as defined by the OED, is “renovate and improve (esp. a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class taste.”

    “Middle class” is a little more nuanced.
    1 – noun
    The social group between the upper and working classes, including professional and business workers and their families.
    2 – adjective
    Of, relating to, or characteristic of this section of society : a middle-class suburb.
    • attaching too much importance to convention, security, and material comfort

    And the final bulleted line does indeed point to EVERY eviction in the DTES.

  • It is tough to find direct evidence of people being “forced” out of the city, but if you consider the combined effect of accelerated gentrification into the Downtown Eastside, the near quadrupling of the homeless population since 2003, the rate at which market housing construction is outpacing the development of new social housing, the zero per cent vacancy rate for people who receive income assistance, the City’s street and traffic/land use bylaws which make it a crime to put down any sort of temporary shelter in public space, the resultant harassment and ticketing by police and the courts, and suddenly the offer of a free one-way ticket must seem like a Godsend.

    Government won’t tell you, straight out, to get the hell out of town because that would be a public relations disaster. What it will do is make daily life in Vancouver as hostile and uncomfortable an experience for a homeless person as it can possibly be so the latter can make the “right” choice for him or herself.

    It’s coercive, it’s bullying and I think it’s a safe bet to say that many of those who have taken the government up on their one-way ticket deal have left because they can no longer tolerate being made to feel they no longer belong here.

    I would suggest looking less for direct orders to get out and more for the combined impact of multiple policies of all levels of government.

  • “What it (the government) will do is make daily life in Vancouver as hostile and uncomfortable an experience for a homeless person as it can possibly be so the latter can make the “right” choice for him or herself.”

    That’s exactly what I was trying to point out is happening by fencing off public space and herding people into the alleys, but you have said it much better Blackbird.

    And thanks NFRM for the stunning revelation that City works projects are planned in advance! How much research did it take you, who sounds curiously like a bureaucrat, to figure that out? The fact that projects like Oppenheimer have been in the works for 10 years, and only just got around to starting right before the Olympics is pure coincidence, too, of course?

    And I hear that a certain retail heiress guest co-authored the plans to put up the fences outside of DEYAS.

  • Frances Bula

    Once again, I am taken aback at the way things that are going on all over the city or that have been going on for years are now perceived as part of the Olympics conspiracy.

    I realize that many people in the Downtown Eastside don’t have the luxury of travelling to other parts of the city and comparing, so they may feel as though their neighbourhood is the target of suspiciously timed construction projects. However, if I can humbly point out — the entire central city has become a construction zone. I haven’t made a trip north of 16th street in a long time where I haven’t suddenly been confronted with a new barricade or road project that produces blocks-long traffic line-ups or shuts down public streets and squares. Robson Square has been under construction for months. Granville looks like the highway out of Baghdad and, not only is Granville, a street that used to have some of the highest pedestrian counts in the downtown, almost completely inaccessible, but it has reduced traffic on the cross streets to a crawl. Second Avenue is a bulldozer and barricade festival these days. Let’s not even talk about Cambie. Both the Queen Elizabeth plaza and Cathedral Square are under renovation. Let’s not even talk about Cambie Street. And there is probably more that I’m missing. I am almost at the point where I am ready to believe that the city is trying to create such a hostile atmosphere that ALL of us will leave, not just Downtown Eastside residents.

    I would note with Oppenheimer Park and Pigeon Park that those projects are likely to finish before the Games, which means they’ll be open and available for people to congregate in even greater numbers just as the Games begin. Surely if the city bureaucrats had a real conspiracy going, they wouldn’t clean them up just in time for February.

    When it comes to the harassment of people with ticketing, yes, that’s something that many found reprehensible. I wrote about that issue for the Globe as did many other media outlets subsequently, and there was a modification of the policy afterwards. And you know what? It’s the kind of blitz that happens routinely down there every few years, when some energetic new officer decides he or she has a great new plan for making the streets more orderly. The ticketing blitz is actually nothing compared to the enormous policing effort in the Downtown Eastside that Jamie Graham introduced in 2002/2003. Remember that? Officers on horseback going down the street, a tripling of patrols and all the rest?

    Finally, as someone who routinely walks, drives, buses through the Downtown Eastside — if there is a concerted plan to drive people away, it doesn’t seem to be working. I notice that the street market/fair in front of United We Can is just as lively as ever, the alley across from Pigeon Park is a major gathering place for dealers and users, and Main and Hastings looks pretty much the same as it always has.

  • Not Running for Mayor

    Thank you for being the voice of reason Frances.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Frances and NRFM, I respect both of your opinions very much, so I’m sorry if I sound to you like a conspiracy crank (although Vancouver does have a long history of freemasonry!). At this point I’ll just have to agree to disagree with your assessments of what’s been happening in the DTES. Perhaps, Frances, you could do another posting on the topic in January and see what people report then? As Am Johal pointed out, the situation will likely be much clearer one way or the other at that time.

  • Frances Bula

    And in return, I respect your willingness to argue your case. I don’t think NRFM or I would disagree with you about “what’s been happening in the DTES.” There isn’t anyone who would say it’s not a worrying situation.

    It’s WHY it’s happening that we are having slight disagreements on. I don’t even really disagree with those who say that the Olympics helped fuel a certain amount of developer euphoria. But given the state of frenzy that already existed in Vancouver, not to mention other factors — the city’s clampdown on building in the central business district which was driving people eastward, the Woodward’s development, Robert Fung’s heritage projects, the rediscovery of Gastown/DTES/Strathcona by all the indie hipsters — it seems weird to me that people keeping acting like what’s going on here is one grade below Seoul, where they razed inner-city slums and displaced 6,000 people.

    I fully intend to keep posting on this, and I imagine lots of others will as well, since the police and city are going to be scrutinized very carefully for signs that they are trying to sweep our undeniable problems under an Olympics rug.

  • Aurora

    Ms. Bula:

    I have just been given an eviction notice from my abode in North Vancouver where I have lived – without incident – for the past 5.5 yrs. It came right out of left field, was not expecting it at all. I feel certain it’s Olympics related. Landlords get me out by Nov 30, clean/paint their suite in Dec, nice and ready for Olympic rentals Jan 1. I’m pretty shocked and upset right now – just was not planning on being out looking for a new residence this fall – feel like I’m being thrown to the Olympic “wolves”. I will be pursuing any avenues I have of fighting this eviction, but per others on this site, the reason the landlord gave was “landlord intends to occupy the space wiht family, or family member.” Which is completely bogus, small family, recently completed renos in their house, from North Van, so no out of town relatives. I don’t buy it at all. I feel very outraged right now. I was never a fan of this appalling event and my concerns feel fully vindicated and justified now and the very personal level.