On Saturday, June 30th, over 150 residents were evicted from the 62 units of housing at 6525, 6559 and 6585 Sussex Avenue. Most had already been intimidated and pressured into leaving, and the few who remained were forced to finally pack up and leave their homes.
The Sussex evictions are one site in an endless cycle of housing precarity as people evicted for one demoviction move into another building awaiting demoviction. While awaiting our next eviction, we struggle with rents that jump several hundred dollars with each forced move, until we become part of the exponentially increasing hidden homeless population. Every evicted apartment has a story, past and connection to the neighbourhood. Some elderly residents demovicted this week on Sussex have lived in these buildings for up to 15 years; many units contain families of up to 4 or 5 people.
Every Metrotown apartment threatened with demoviction is a home that, stitched together, make up the fabric of a diverse, rich, working class community. Our community is being destroyed by the unfeeling profit-seeking of landlord and investor property rights, and a city council that is determined make its legacy the transformation of this working class neighbourhood into a “downtown” financial centre. Our fight against demovictions has a meaning beyond those immediately affected — Stop Demovictions Burnaby is at the centre of a movement against the rule of property over people, against profit by investment over use of land and shelters by communities, which is why we refer our work against evictions as an anti-capitalist and anti-colonial struggle.
Photo’s courtesy of Stephen Samuel, Gergo Farkas and Ivan Drury
Against “Canada” Day and settler colonialism
That the Sussex evictions are taking place on July 1st gives us an opportunity to consider the problem of settler-colonialism that established the property rights that are evicting our community. The existence of Canada is rooted in the colonization of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island and “Canada Day” glamorizes Indigenous genocide on these occupied lands. The implications of this colonial occupation are stark: more Indigenous children are being violently separated from their families through the foster care system than were ever imprisoned in the Canadian residential school system, over 100 reserves across the country face boil water advisories, thousands of Indigenous women and girls have disappeared and many more face elevated levels of sexual violence. The ownership and profit-driven system of property rights is the motive for all these crimes and the fight in Metrotown reveals that is it not only Indigenous peoples who stand to benefit from a break away from property rights. When tenants come together and say “we won’t go” when evicted, support one another and depend on our collective power rather than legal power, we will contradict and resist the settler-colonial Canadian law that mandates that corporate landlords and the state have the power to evict tenants off of occupied Indigenous territories for mass profit.
What tenant rights? The landlord’s right to evict
A recent study by SFU scholars found that the majority of evictions in British Columbia place blame on tenants for their own evictions, citing “for cause” or “failure to pay rent” or “failure to qualify for a subsidized unit” as the reasoning. The Residential Tenancy Act gives tenants the right to oppose unlawful evictions but not evictions for failure to pay rent. The legal explanation that the landlord’s property right has been breached by a tenant’s failure to pay rent does not capture the truth, which is that rents are too expensive in comparison to wages and, especially, in comparison to income assistance rates. The rental market, with vacancy rates nearing zero percent, leaving tenants with no choice but to pay more and more of our incomes to rent, and to crowd our homes with roommates, which also makes us vulnerable to evictions. The private rental market houses us by keeping us in poverty and evicts us to homelessness when we falter.
Against the smokescreen of “non-market” housing
Alongside the condo tower replacing the low-rise apartments on Sussex is a “non-market” rental building that Burnaby’s Mayor and Council have celebrated as the solution to the demovictions crisis and the insecurity of the private rental market. But the truth is not so simple. New Vista, the non-market housing provider, hopes they will be able to subsidize some non-market units by charging more for other non-market units. This strategy shifts the burden for non-market housing provision away from the Provincial or Federal social redistribution of wealth through government taxation to the redistribution of income at the level of the building. Rather than the government taking taxes from the rich and redistributing that money in the form of housing to the poor, New Vista will take extra rent money from the slightly less poor, as a subsidizing rent, and redistribute it to the slightly more poor as subsidized rent.
For a 1 bedroom apartment, the subsidizing rent rate will be around $1,400 and the subsidized rent rate will be around $900 – which, because the building will operate under BC Housing rules, means residents will have to have incomes of $2,700/month and go through slow and onerous application process to even qualify for the subsided units. The rents are actually cheaper in the older, privately-owned buildings – in the buildings that have just been renovicted for these towers, all rents are around $800 to $900. New Vista is using this “internal subsidy” model of non-market housing because the Provincial NDP government is continuing BC Liberal austerity policies, forcing third party housing providers to develop alternatives to tax-based social services. This brand of non-market housing also depends on partnership with profit-driven developers, meaning that this meagre amount of expensive non-market housing comes with mass displacement by gentrification.
The fight will continue
We must not allow the tenants of these Sussex buildings to be erased as another example of the colonial and capitalist system working as it was set in place to. Our anti-demovictions movement opposes displacement from dispossessed Indigenous land. We reject the notion that a few application-based affordable units can make up for an entire building lost. What happened to the buildings on Sussex and Beresford isn’t exceptional: it has become normal. And that’s a new normal we refuse to accept.
Join the fight against demovictions!
Stop Demovictions Burnaby All-Community Organizing Meeting
When: Tuesday July 10th, 6:00pm
Where: Burnaby Neighbourhood House, 4460 Beresford Street on the 3rd floor
Come to this community organizing meeting to plan a protest action at the end of July on the 1st anniversary of the passing of the Metrotown plan, and to coordinate defence of our neighbours most vulnerable to eviction.