Strathcona homeowners declare 'tax resistance' until homeless camp is relocated, housing provided
VANCOUVER -- An online petition, posted on Monday night, is collecting signatures from homeowners in East Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood. Homeowners are pledging to withhold property tax payments until their concerns regarding homelessness are addressed.
The petition comes in response to the new camp in the neighbourhood’s sprawling Strathcona park, where there are more than 300 people living in tents.
The homeowners are adamant that it’s in solidarity with the un-housed campers, who they consider to be part of their community.
“We consider the campers – and the unhoused population of the Downtown Eastside – our neighbors and we're very sincere in that belief and expression,” said Jamie Maclaren, who started the petition.
“It's more a case of us wanting to see our neighbors and everyone in our community have safe and comfortable homes where they can find real community,” he said.
“I really hope that people don't see this as a NIMBY exercise. It's, I think, very sincere.”
McLaren met with members of the encampment Thursday night, including camp liaison Chrissy Brett, who says it was positive.
“They recognize that unhoused people are also members of their community,” Brett said. “We really put our hands up to a group that chose to come and consult with us, rather than just write something about us and put it forward as something that they can do to help people.”
Many of the campers have been evicted from previous tent cities around the Downtown Eastside, including Crab Park and Oppenheimer Park.
The petition asks for “a permanent end to displacement” of the camp “by way of final relocation” to government-created in-city camp sites equipped with amenities “away from public park space.” It also demands governments commit to building 4,000 units of social housing, and more funding for sanitation and mental health supports in the neighbourhood.
“We feel that there's a real deficit in social housing in Vancouver, and that governments need to make up that deficit in quick order, especially, you know, in time of pandemic,” Maclaren said.
In response to the petition, the B.C. Ministry of Housing issued a statement, saying in part: “We all recognize that homelessness is a complex problem, and one that has become particularly acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 3,000 spaces of temporary accommodation have been leased by the Province through BC Housing across B.C.”
The ministry says it’s has a goal to build 4,900 new supportive homes over ten years, and it asking the federal government to “step up and join us in providing further funding for housing.”
CTV News reached out to the City of Vancouver regarding the petition and received a statement, in part it says, “The City is aware of the petition from the residents who live near the park. Council approved a delay in the 2020 property tax deadline from July 3, 2020, to September 30, 2020, in recognition of the financial strain many residents and businesses are experiencing due to the pandemic. As outlined on our website, unpaid balances will be subject to a 5 per cent penalty after the deadline passes.”
When asked if there would be penalties to homeowners for deferring property tax payments, the ministry said, “Under the Vancouver Charter, if you don’t pay your property taxes by the due date there is a penalty. Municipalities set the due date and penalty and this year, Vancouver has extended the deadline to pay property taxes to September 30th.”
Some residents say that since the camp set up in Strathcona Park, they’ve seen an increase in verbal threats of violence.
“These issues have worsened dramatically in recent weeks and months, to the point that many of Strathcona's most vulnerable residents—including low-income seniors and children—feel too unsafe to use one of only two neighbourhood parks available to them,” reads the petition.
In response to the concerns, Vancouver police increased their patrols of the area at the end of July.
Maclaren was scheduled to meet with organizers of the encampment on Thursday to discuss the petition. On top of the homeowner petition, which has gained more than 285 signatures, there’s also a “support statement” that others who are renters or campers can sign.