With astronomical eviction numbers and nowhere to go, British Columbia “returns to normal”

The Balanced Supply of Housing Research Cluster at the University of British Columbia released a report last week, “Estimating no-fault evictions in Canada: Understanding BC’s disproportionate eviction rate in the 2021 Canadian housing survey”. Looking at data from the 2021 Canadian Housing Survey, researchers wanted to find out eviction rates, reasons for evictions, and what happened in the first period of the Covid pandemic. On all counts, British Columbia scored the highest, or failed the most profoundly, depending on one’s perspective. Between April 2016 and early 2021, 10.5% of B.C. renter households reported being forced to move, compared with the national rate of 5.9%. At some level, none of this was surprising or new, since British Columbia has consistently led the nation in evictions. What was new is this: “British Columbia’s high eviction rate is driven by higher rates of no-fault evictions …. 85% of evictions reported by renter households in British Columbia in the five years prior to data collection were no-fault evictions.” Paid your rent on time, the landlord never had any issues with you, you were an ideal tenant? Who cares? You’re out. And not only are you out, you have nowhere to go. They call that market-forces justice.

Here’s more market forces justice. Most provinces had some sort of eviction ban during the Covid pandemic, and yet the number of evictions remained relatively stable. How can that be? According to the report, there are at least two reasons. First, once the bans were lifted, eviction processes were “accelerated”. Second, “despite all the eviction bans that were implemented, at least 38,900 – 68,080 renter households were evicted during the first year of the pandemic in Canada.” Were landlords punished for these evictions? No. That too is market-forces justice.

In British Columbia, there is rent control for those who living in a unit. There are no controls or limits on how much a landlord can charge a new tenant. There are no real controls on no-fault evictions. A landlord simply has to claim they want to sell, inhabit, renovate, repair, or demolish the property. There’s no requirement of proof of any kind. Many of those who were evicted report that their former homes remain vacant for months, even years, afterwards. There’s no enforcement because there’s nothing to enforce.

Fiona Scott lives in Vancouver. In the past decade, she endured three no-fault evictions. The last one was over a year ago. The unit she used to call home remains vacant to this day. Meanwhile Fiona Scott lives in a much smaller apartment, for which she pays $500 more a month, and so has had to take on extra work. “You have an emotional connection to your house, it’s your safe space… and then all of a sudden it’s gone. It wasn’t an emotional journey I was prepared for.”

Linda de Gonzalez is a 70-year-old pensioner who has lived in her apartment for 20 years. This year the landlord raised the rent 43%, starting in June. But what about rent control? The landlord said that if de Gonzalez didn’t accept the exorbitant increase, he’d sell the unit. Again, there’s no requirement of proof. “It really was utterly and completely devastating. I literally felt my stomach fall out. I just sat on the floor and I cried and I cried and I cried. And I kept thinking what am I going to do? I have nowhere to go.” I have nowhere to go.

A second report, issued by Vancouver’s First United Church Eviction Mapping Project, found that 27% of evicted people had not found a place to live. 45% of Indigenous respondents had not found a place to live. 31% of people of color had not found a place to live. 34% of people living with disabilities had not found a place to live. For those in the lowest income bracket, 53% had not found a place to live. “People with an annual income of less than $50,000 were almost three times as likely to become homeless than those with an annual income of over $50,000.” Meanwhile, 12% of those earning more than $50,000 a year had not found a place to live. Of those who did find somewhere to live, for most it had to be in a new neighborhood, meaning no support systems. 80% of evicted residents reported neighborhood displacement. For evicted Indigenous residents, that was 91%.

The report notes, “For many evicted tenants, homelessness was long-term as they struggled to find a way back into the rental housing market amidst massive increases in the amount of rent landlords are charging.” Homeless was, and is, long-term.

As Anne Waldman once wrote,

“it is error it is speculation it is real estate

      it is the villain and comic slippery words

            the work of despotic wills to make money”

Nowhere to go, nowhere to go, nowhere to go.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic: The University of British Columbia)

 

British Columbia decided that rather than be second in the race to the bottom, it would prefer to be first in the pursuit of justice

#WelcomeToCanada

On Thursday, July 21, 2022, British Columbia’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth announced that the province will end its immigration detention contract with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The province would no longer hold immigrant detainees in provincial jails. Minister Farnworth explained, “In the fall of 2021, I committed to a review of BC Corrections’ arrangement with the CBSA on holding immigration detainees in provincial correctional centres. This review examined all aspects of the arrangement, including its effect on public safety and whether it aligns with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and expectations set by Canadian courts …. The review brought to light that aspects of the arrangement do not align with our government’s commitment to upholding human-rights standards or our dedication to pursuing social justice and equity for everyone.”

Part of the impetus for the provincial review came from a joint Human Rights – Amnesty campaign, #WelcomeToCanada, launched last year, on June 20, World Refugee Day. At the launch, the campaign noted, “Between April 2019 and March 2020, Canada locked up 8,825 people between the ages of 15 and 83, including 1,932 in provincial jails. In the same period, another 136 children were `housed in detention to avoid separating them from their detained parents, including 73 under age 6 … Since 2016, Canada has held more than 300 immigration detainees for longer than a year.”

This week, Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada (English Speaking), said, “Today’s decision is a momentous step. We commend British Columbia on being the first province to stop locking up refugee claimants and migrants in its jails solely on immigration grounds. This is a true human rights victory, one which upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada in search of safety or a better life.”

Kasari Govender, British Columbia’s current and first independent Human Rights Commissioner, added, “Detaining innocent migrants in jails is cruel, unjust and violates human rights commitments. CBSA may still hold migrants in a detention centre, but this a significant first step towards affirming the human rights of detainees. Now, it is up to the federal government to abolish all migrant detention and expand the use of community-based alternatives that support individuals.”

The decision is momentous, landmark, in a number of ways. In and of itself, it marks the first province to stop the brutal practice, and to do so in the name of human rights, social justice and equity. Additionally, until now, British Columbia is a leader in the incarceration of immigrants. From 2019 to 2020, 22% of detained immigrants were held in provincial jails. Then Covid hit. The number of people held in 2020 – 2021 dropped to 1605, of whom 40% were held in provincial jails. In the two years under review, only Ontario exceeded British Columbia in the incarceration of immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees. This week, British Columbia decided that rather than be second in the race to the bottom, it would prefer to be first in the pursuit of justice.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Amnesty International Canada)