Letter to the City: The Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest

RE: SRO Convention Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest

Dear Penny,

On October 19th 2014, CCAP announced the winner of its Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest at the DTES SRO Tenants’ Convention. For three weeks leading up to the event, we collected nomination forms for the SRO with the worst living conditions from residents. We received a total of 325 nominations. The winning hotels were:

  • First Place – The Balmoral Hotel: 93 votes
  • Second Place – The Regent Hotel: 49 votes
  • Third Place – The Cobalt Hotel: 21 votes

CCAP staff recently visited ten hotels, including the three “winners”, and many are quite obviously not meeting the city’s Standards of Maintenance Bylaw. Although we noticed the Regent is in slightly better shape than it was last year at this time, the hotels still have plugged toilets and filth in washrooms, halls, baseboards, around radiators, on windows, and in common areas. There was blood on the wall of the Balmoral when we were there during the week of October 13th. Roaches are still rampant.

Balmoral bathroom

One of our many “dirty toilet” pictures. This is the Balmoral, owned by the Sahotas.

 

As you know, the tenters at the Oppenheimer Park Tent City often said that camping was better than living in an SRO. Our contest results and our own SRO visits showed us why this was the case. At our SRO tenants Convention on October 19th, people made the following comments about SROs:

  • “All SROs should be demolished. They’re full of rats.”
  • “Those places are so deplorable. Women experience sexual assaults, doors get kicked in, very unsafe, cockroaches, bedbugs and rats.”
  • “Lots of bugs, different kinds. Lack of security and safety for tenants.”

The message from the Tent City campers and people who attended the SRO tenant convention is that forcing people to live in these conditions is dehumanizing. We are convinced that you would come to the same conclusion if you walked through one of the “winning” hotels.

Holborn clean

Cleanliness is possible! This toilet at the Holborn is a shining example that SROs can be cleaned.

Not all hotels are filthy. The Patrick Anthony, St. Ehlmo’s and the Holborn, for example, were in fairly good shape. These cases prove that SROs can be well maintained.

The action that the City is taking to improve the standards of maintenance in SROs is grossly insufficient. We are happy that the City has placed the West and the Regal under non-profit management. Since all the winners of the Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest belong to the Sahotas, CCAP is asking the city to impose non profit management on the Balmoral, the Cobalt and the Regent. Over 300 human beings have been putting up with poor conditions in their buildings for far too long and its time for action that works.

For the rest of the hotels, it is clear to us that annual inspections are not enough. Hotels may clean up prior to their inspection, but for the rest of the year tenants have to live in deplorable conditions. Inspections should be monthly and rigorous. The City should apply pressure on landlords until deficiencies are addressed. Attached is a list of Standards of Maintenance bylaw sections that were commonly violated in some of the hotels we walked through in the weeks prior to the SRO tenant convention.

Sincerely,

Jean Swanson and Tamara Herman

Carnegie Community Action Project

Click here for our “photographic evidence” of our SRO visits

Hotels visited by CCAP staff in October: Balmoral, Regent, Cobalt, Belmont, Holborn, Patrick Anthony, Vernon, Hildon, Empress, Clifton.

Quotes from Standards of Maintenance Bylaw and our field notes on conditions in hotels during week of Oct. 13.

13.1 (1) Floors shall be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition,

  • Rugs are disgusting in Cobalt, Vernon, stairwells of Hildon.

(5) Rooms containing sanitary facilities shall be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition and provided with a smooth surface reasonably impervious to water or chipping or cracking on the walls and ceilings

  • Photos provided of filth and plugged toilets in Empress, Balmoral, Regent.
  1. c) that adequate supplies of hand soap and toilet tissue shall be available

at all times to lodgers in shared sanitary facilities,

  • Didn’t see hand soap in any of the washrooms in any hotels.

21.5 Every lodging house keeper shall provide a laundry room or other room with a minimum area of 50 square feet (4.6 m5) equipped with an electric washing machine and an electric or gas dryer, except that this clause shall not apply where the lodging house operator provides a laundry or dry-cleaning service for tenants and guests.

  • Does every hotel have a laundry room? Didn’t see laundry rooms in all hotels, or any notice offering laundry services.

21.10 Every lodging house owner shall at all times keep or maintain the lodging house:

(a) in a thoroughly clean and sanitary condition, including windows and lightwells;

  • Six of the hotels we visited were definitely not thoroughly clean and sanitary, as evidenced by the windows and lightwells. Some of the windows were so dirty that we couldn’t see outside through parts of them. Mold and grime is in washrooms, halls, along baseboards, by radiators, etc. The dirtiest hotels were the Balmoral, Regent, Cobalt, Vernon, Empress and Clifton. The Holborn and Patrick Anthony were satisfactory.

(b) free of pests, including insects and rodents;

  • We saw roaches climbing on the walls at Balmoral, Regent and Empress.

(f) sinks, toilets and bathing fixtures in good working order and repair.

  • We took pictures of toilets that were obviously not in good repair at the Empress, Balmoral, Regent

21.18 Every lodging house operator shall:

(d) provide sufficient maintenance staff to perform room cleaning as well as cleaning of all common use areas, as often as required to keep in a clean condition,

  • If this is happening, why are the places so dirty? Is one of the problems that the maintenance staff are being paid less than minimum wage? Tenants tell us that this is a problem.

22.1 In all cases, where new materials are being applied, or repair work is being carried out, the installation of such materials and/or any repair work shall be carried out in a good workman-like manner and finished to standard acceptable to the City Building Inspector.

  • Often tenants tell us that building owners don’t pay minimum wage and work done is not up to standard.
Convention Poster FINAL

DTES SRO Tenant Convention

This event will be taking place on the traditional, unceded, occupied ancestral homelands of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations.

———-

SRO Tenants and Friends: Come together to achieve housing justice! Join us on Sunday Oct 19 for a day of workshops on housing issues. Meet other tenants and work together to stop renovictions and improve living conditions.

Sunday, October 19th
12 pm – 5 pm
Japanese Language School, 487 Alexander Street (at Jackson Street)

Workshop topics include:
◆ 311: What the City Inspectors can do for you
◆ Hands-on Eviction Prevention
◆ Bedbug Science Class: How to get rid of them

SRO TENANT CONVENTION
Sunday Oct 19, Noon – 5pm
Japanese Hall – 487 Alexander St.

Stew & bannock * On-site childcare * ASL interpretation
Guest speakers * Wheelchair accessible

Info: sro.convention@gmail.com

**This event prioritizes space for past and present SRO tenants. Allies are welcome to join to witness, or volunteer! Email if interested.

Crummy Cockroach Web

The Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest

The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) is sponsoring a Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest to identify the SRO hotels with the worst living conditions and pressure the City to make landlords improve them. In 1978, the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association (DERA) sponsored a Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest. Publicity from the contest helped get the City to pass a Standards of Maintenance Bylaw. Now we need the City to enforce this bylaw.

How to enter:
Print this form and fill it out, or get a copy from the CCAP office on the second floor of the Carnegie (to the left of the stairs). Leave it under the door if no one is there, in the box on the bulletin board or with the security desk.

How to win:

Winners will be chosen on SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19th at the end of the SRO TENANT CONVENTION at the Japanese Language School, 487 Alexander Street, near Jackson Street. Winners MUST be present to win, and will be able to talk to the group about the hotel if they want to. You can only enter once: All your entries will be disqualified if you enter more than once.

Winners will be selected as follows: Each hotel nominated more than once will be put in a pile. A winner’s name will be drawn from the pile with the most, second most and third most nominations. Prizes are $100 for first prize, $25 for second and $15 for third.

Do you live in an SRO? You’re invited to the first-ever DTES SRO Tenant Convention on Sunday, October 19th from 12 pm to 5 pm at the Japanese Language School, 487 Alexander Street (near Jackson). Free workshops, food, presentations and more.

Measures the City of Vancouver can take to prevent renovictions

CCAP made a presentation to the City Manager on Friday, June 20th on renovictions. Scroll down for a summary of the context, and 11 steps that the City can take to prevent renovictions. For a virtual tour of the Clifton Hotel, click here.

The Context

CCAP 2013 Hotel Report:

  • Number of rooms surveyed in total: 3319
  • Number of rooms renting at $425 or more: 2278 (69%)
  • 2013: Number of rooms that increased beyond $425: 236
  • 2014: 146 units under $400 lost, at least 98 more at risk
  • Living Balance alone purchased the Station (32 weeks), Thornton Park (22 weeks), Vernon has an Instafund sign. Other concerns: 74 residents in the Clifton are evicted; approximately half of 18 rooms are empty at the  St. Elmo, 98 rooms at the West are at risk.

How landlords are evicting low-income tenants:

  • Raising rents up to legally allowable limit, which exceeds welfare/disability shelter rates;
  • Converting rooms for “caretakers”;
  • Citing pre-existing pest control issues;
  • Using pay-offs;
  • Demanding unreasonable replacement costs for key fobs;
  • Attempting to use exceptional rent increases based on market rents in geographic areas.

Measures that the City can take to protect SROs as low-income housing:

Enforce standards of maintenance

  1. Enforce the Standards of Maintenance Bylaw to ensure that buildings do not deteriorate.
  • Use section 23 of the Standards of Maintenance Bylaw to do the necessary work on the building without evicting the tenants.

    A bathroom in the Balmoral Hotel

    A bathroom in the Balmoral Hotel

  1. Enforce other maintenance bylaws more strictly so that landlords aren’t allowed to let buildings deteriorate to such poor standards.
  1. Require non-profit management as a condition of obtaining a business license for landlords whose buildings have been the subject of complaints and violations.
  • Lease the hotel from the owner and guarantee current residents
  • will not have their rents raised.

 

Apply the SRA Bylaw

  1. Use the SRA bylaw to prevent conversions that have a “material effect on the enjoyment by permanent residents of their living accommodation.”
  • Definition of Conversion (Section 1, 1.2):  “(e) a repair or alteration to a designated room or any improvement or fixture in it or a replacement of any such improvement or fixture, except for repairs or alterations that are minor in nature and have no material effect on the enjoyment by permanent residents of their living accommodation.”
  • In many cases, repairs and alterations are not minor because they do make the place better and improve the enjoyment by permanent residents of their living accommodation. This is why landlords are able to increase rents.
Metropole hotel is "trying to get rid of the welfare people"

Metropole hotel is “trying to get rid of the welfare people”

  1. Enforce the conversion or demolition permit conditions in the SRA Bylaw
  • 4.8 Section A allows the City to charge a $15,000 fee as a condition of approving a conversion or demolition permit to deposit into a reserve fund to replace the accommodation.
  • 4.8 Section E establishes measures that require the owner to either locate and arrange comparable or better accommodation at a comparable/lesser rent for residents or give the resident the first right of refusal to re-rent the room at the same rent.

Leverage municipal permitting processes

  1. Use the municipal permit process to prohibit rent increases as conditions of allocating building and development permits.

Invest in and advocate for social housing

  1. Buy land for social housing that rents at welfare rates to show leverage provincial funding, as was done for the 14 sites before the Olympics.
  2. Ensure that the $30M/year in provincial funding for social housing is directed at housing at welfare rate. Designate sites in the DTES, such as 58 W. Hastings, the former police station, the Buddhist Temple owned by the Health Authority.

Support advocacy

  1. Fund a tenants’ union to organize tenants to advocate for adequate maintenance and to prevent renovictions.
  2. Implement a poster campaign to inform tenants of their rights and who to call when their rights are violated.
  3. Assign a City inspector to work closely on implementing these ten recommendations.

Homeless Count Reveals Escalating Housing Crisis in Vancouver

News Release

– For Immediate Release –

Homeless Count Reveals Escalating Housing Crisis in Vancouver

“Renovictions” from SROs and failure to build social housing behind increase in homelessness

Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories, April 23, 2014 – The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) is calling on all three levels of government to take action to eliminate homelessness in Vancouver.

“We are disappointed but not surprised that the numbers in this year’s homelessness count are so high”, said CCAP’s King-mong Chan. “The City has not taken action to protect low-income housing, the province has failed to build the social housing we desperately need and the federal government has all but divested from low-income housing.”

CCAP points to the housing crisis in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) as a reason behind escalating homelessness in Vancouver.

“Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels are the last stop before homeless for thousands of people in the city and most are located in the DTES. We’ve been tracking rising hotel rents in the neighbourhood for six years”, continued Chan. “Our 2013 study showed that DTES residents have to pay more of their limited income for an SRO room in despicable condition if they want to remain housed in their neighbourhood.

CCAP’s 2013 study, which was released in February, indicated that at least 236 units were lost to low-income people due to rent increases. Over 600 rooms were renting for $500 or more, which is completely out of the reach of people on welfare, disability or basic pension. With dozens of evictions from two more hotels already recorded in 2014 and several other buildings listed for sale, next year’s report already looks dismal.

“The result of inaction is a tidal wave of low-income people that are now being ‘renovicted’ and displaced,” said CCAP’s Tamara Herman. “The SROs that used to be low-income housing are now being marketed for students, artists and others with higher incomes. Because of the critical shortages of social housing, there is simply nowhere left for low-income people to go.”

CCAP argued for more social housing and stronger controls on rising rents in SROs during the DTES Local Area Planning Process. Instead, most new housing will be too expensive for low-income people and no protection will be put in place for low-income residents facing renovictions from SROs.

“The housing crisis in Vancouver is engineered”, stated Herman. “But it can also be solved. This year’s homeless count shows that the Mayor’s election promise to reduce homelessness can’t be met without stronger action. We call on the City and the province to work together and put in place an effective rent control program for privately-owned SROs. We are demanding that the City, the province and the federal government to build 5,000 new units of self-contained social housing in the DTES.”

The CCAP 2013 Hotel and Housing report is available online at https://ccapvancouver.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/ccap-hotel-and-housing-report-2013.pdf

– 30 –

Contact:

Tamara Herman, Coordinator, Carnegie Community Action Project – tamaraccap@gmail.com

King-mong Chan, Organizer/Researcher, Carnegie Community Action Project -kingmong_chan@hotmail.com

604.665.2105

Longing for Light

As the Local Area Planning Process ends and a new page of organizing for the DTES begins, here are some thoughts from the late Sandy Cameron, borrowed from his website.

Longing for Light

“Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?” a thoughtful person asked at a gathering of people telling Downtown Eastside stories. (1) How many times have we asked ourselves that question, “Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?”  Are we getting anywhere with our work, or are things just as bad as ever?  Is gentrification crushing the low-income community of the Downtown Eastside in spite of all our efforts?  Will Insite be destroyed by people who are unable to understand the extensive research on harm reduction?  Is the light at the end of the tunnel really a train coming right at us?  Sometimes we are overwhelmed with sorrow, although we want justice to prevail.

We work to make our community a better place, not a perfect place, but a better place.  If we look for immediate results in this work, we are in danger of falling into despair.  Society does not change quickly, and our commitment is for the long haul.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, a peace activist, and a writer.  A friend of his was falling into despair because he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Merton wrote to his friend, saying, “ Do not depend on the hope of results…you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all…As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on…the rightness, the truth of the work itself…in the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

A good example of a determined commitment to the rightness of a cause is the five hundred year old resistance movement of first Nations people against injustice.  This inspiring struggle will continue from one generation to another until justice is done.  Leonard Peltier of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations has been unjustly imprisoned for over thirty years, yet he does not despair.  He wrote in his book, Prison Writings – My Life is My Sun Dance, “Never cease in the fight for peace, justice and equality for all people,” and “I know that without compassion and respect for all of Earth’s inhabitants none of us will survive –nor will we deserve to.”  Leonard Peltier has turned his life into a prayer,m and he wrote, “No prison bars can stop a prayer.”

A wise Inuit poem recognizes our longing for light.  The poem goes like this:

“In the eternal darkness\the crow
unable to find food
longed for light
and the earth was illumined.”

This poem is telling us that the light is not at the end of the tunnel.  The poem says that light arises out of our longing.  It is within us, but we need silence and full attention in order to see it.  When asked what he taught his children, the Lakota Chief Standing Bear replied, “They were taught…to look when there was apparently nothing to see, and to listen intently when all seemingly was quiet.” (2) People who follow that path will see the light.

(1)Eastside Stories – The people, The Voices; sponsored by the Vancouver Moving Theatre, the Radha Yoga and Eatery, and the Carnegie Community Centre.

(2)American Indian Prose and Poetry:  An Anthology edited by Margot Astrov, Capricorn Books, 1982.