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'You don't listen to renters': Vancouver Tenants Union disrupts housing announcement

Rental housing advocates interrupted an announcement by B.C.'s housing minister in Vancouver Wednesday morning to object to the provincial government's response to the affordability crisis.

"I'm sorry to be doing this," said Mazdak Gharibnavaz, a volunteer with the Vancouver Tenants Union, as he stepped in front of Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon's podium.

"You and your staff – no offence to you – you do not know what renters need. We do."

Gharibnavaz went on to tell the minister and the assembled reporters that thousands of families are at risk of "demoviction" along the path of the future Broadway subway line.

He said the VTU had spoken to 300 residents of the neighbourhood, who estimate that their rents would rise by $800 per month for one-bedroom units and $1,100 per month for two-bedroom units if they have to move into new buildings being constructed in the area.

"We've been talking to renters all along this neighbourhood," he said. "You don't listen to renters in this city, and that's why we need to be speaking out today."

Kahlon was speaking at the site of a future 28-storey rental tower, which is under construction at 2538 Birch St. in Vancouver.

The project is slated to include 258 rental units, with 58 of them designated as "below market" units and 200 designed to be affordable to households with middle incomes, according to the province.

Gharibnavaz described the project – and the redevelopment of the Broadway Corridor more broadly – as an effort to replace aging, affordable rental buildings with new towers that are significantly more expensive, even when they're supposed to be affordable.

"These are luxury homes that you want to replace their buildings with," he said. "Your plan is for your developer friends to drive us out of our neighbourhoods and out of our cities. Tenants understand that this provincial government will not protect us or stand up for our human right to housing."

The VTU is calling for policies that will protect renters from getting displaced and keep land values low to prevent skyrocketing rents.

After the disruption finished, Kahlon carried on with his news conference, addressing the VTU protesters' points while taking questions from reporters.

"They highlighted that they heard from 300 people," the housing minister said.

"I hear from thousands of people who are looking for housing. They can't find it. This project, here, that they decided they were going to protest, is a project that was a Denny's before and now is 258 rental units available, 58 units for families making less than $80,000, 200 units for families making $170,000 or less."

Kahlon added that B.C. needs to continue to build affordable housing for people at all income levels, and defended the provincial government's efforts to do that.

Vancouver’s deputy mayor Mike Klassen said the rental homes will help families and seniors thrive.

“This project is abut more than just putting roofs over people’s heads, it is about creating belonging and community in this vibrant city,” Klassen said.

But Gharibnavaz is worried the different tiers of renters will cause division.

“What it means is the social mix of the people who end up in these buildings will drive out the most vulnerable people,” he said. “Their neighbours are not going to understand the struggles that they’re having because there’s such a difference in the rents that they’re paying. What we need is publicly built rental stocks that keep rents low. That’s what we need, not partnerships with for-profits, profit incentives.”

The development is being done in collaboration with Jameson Development Corp., the City of Vancouver and the province through its HousingHub program.

The program’s mandate is to increase the supply of affordable homes for middle-income earners by offering low-interest financing to developers. Top Stories

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