CCAP volunteers send open letter to Minister of Social Development about wait times for welfare phone line

An open letter to Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation

Dear Minister,

Re:  Ministry 1-866 number

We are members of the Carnegie Community Action Project who meet every Friday to discuss and act on issues that are important to our community.

Many of us are on disability or social assistance and have had to use the Ministry’s 1-866 number when we need Ministry services or income or when our cheques are withheld and we don’t know why.

As you must know, $610 a month, the social assistance rate for a single person, is not enough to pay rent and buy nutritious food for a month.  Because of this, many people who need social assistance cannot afford phones.  To tell us that we have to phone to get the services that we need is just putting one more hurdle in our lives.  Maybe we can find a community agency that has a free phone.  But these phones usually have a 5 minute time limit, and we are on hold, sometimes, for 40 minutes!  People line up behind us and start getting angry.  We give up and drop the call and don’t get what we need.

Or we buy some precious minutes for a phone so we can contact medical appointments, and prospective employers,  and have to waste them while we are on hold with the Ministry.

It is extremely stressful to have to phone to get services and money that we desperately need and then to have to wait such a long time on hold and sometimes get cut off . This stress is bad for our health.

One of our members, who has severe arthritis and no phone, had to wait in lineups to use community phones just so she could get an application for disability assistance.  It was so stressful waiting on hold in lineups where people got angry at her for taking so much time that she gave up after several times of trying.  As a result, her disability pension was two months later than it would have been, had she been able to get the form when she needed it.  She lost about $600 and the Ministry gained about $600.

To make the poorest people in the province always have to wait on hold for 10, 20 or 40 minutes creates a lot of unnecessary stress and is disrespectful of our lives and our humanity.  When we call the Ministry it is usually important.  We may be on the verge of homelessness.  We may need money for food.   We may need medicine.

Please tell us what the Ministry intends to do to replace phones with real people and/or end phone wait times.

We would like to invite you to one of our meetings, held every Friday at noon at the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver.  If you come we can discuss our experiences with the phone line .

Yours sincerely,

Carnegie Community Action Project Volunteers.

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.

HIRING 3 SRO TENANTS: Contract Work Posting for SRO Tenants’ Convention Peer Organizers

Download and share the pdf version of this job posting here

Please help spread the word to those who might be interested!

The SRO Convention is a gathering of SRO tenants to discuss housing issues and challenges, receive training on tenant rights and community organizing, and collectively work together on solutions to achieve dignified housing for all. The convention will take place on Sunday, October 19th.

Peer Organizers will play a vital role in providing direction and feedback for the convention, as well as bringing together and empowering a community of SRO tenants.

Responsibilities

  • Outreach to SRO tenants, including door-­‐knocking, tabling, postering
  • Participate in coordinating committee meetings and attend meetings of other groups in the neighbourhood
  • Possible media interviews (training provided)

Qualifications

  • Currently living or has lived in a publicly or privately owned SRO

Hours and Pay

Total hours of 30 (approximately 5/week). Total pay will be $450 in 3 monthly cheques upon submission of timesheets and review of work completed by the SRO Convention Coordinator.

How to apply

To apply, please leave a message by Friday, August 29th at 5:00PM with Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) for Chanel at 604-­‐665-­‐2105 or sro.convention@gmail.com with your name and preferred contact information to set up an interview.

First Nations, LGBTQ2S, immigrants, youth, women, and people of colour are strongly encouraged to apply.

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.