April 2020 [Virtual] General Meeting

59 VTU members attended our first online general meeting on April 25, 2020. Here is what happened...

Item 1: Territorial Acknowledgement & Community Agreements

As usual, we ask all attendees at VTU functions to follow these community agreements:

  1. One-mic - means to respect each other’s speaking time.
  2. Speak Up/Listen Up - means that people who are comfortable should step up on their listening skills and people who tend not to speak should step up speaking more.
  3. Break It Down - explaining words or phrases that are unclear/ inaccessible.
  4. Respect Each Other - oppressive behaviour will not be tolerated
  5. Challenge Ideas, Not People - disagreements should be expressed with what people have said and not the people themselves.
  6. Be Present
  7. Take Care Of Yourself - do what is best for your physical and emotional well being

In addition to these agreements, we are asking everyone to observe the following meeting norms to help our virtual meeting run smoothly:

  • When entering the meeting, please type your full name. We will use this to cross reference our database so that this can remain a members-only meeting.
    • If you are calling in, we will be cross referencing your phone number. 
  • Keep your mic on mute unless you are the speaker. Facilitators will have the ability to mute your mic if need be.
  • Questions & Comments
    • Please submit your questions and comments in writing in the Zoom Chat window, or ahead of the meeting if possible.
    • The above community agreements apply to the Zoom Chat window. Members submitting disrespectful comments in the chat window may be ejected from the meeting by facilitators
    • Call-in participants will be given a time at the end of each Q&A session to ask their questions out loud or they can use email
    • Please keep your questions and comments succinct so that as many people as possible can have time to ask their question
    • If your question wasn’t answered in the meeting, you are always welcome to follow up after the meeting: info@vancouvertenantsunion.ca
  • If you are having technical difficulties hearing or participating in the meeting, please understand that facilitators will have a limited ability to help you. If you are asking a question and it does not come through clearly, we may have to move on, but we’ll try to come back to you.
    • If you missed something, you can refer to our meeting minutes document [linked above] Minutes will be recorded in real-time.

Item 2: COVID-19 Renters Rights Presentation

  • Members viewed a video presentation by Rocco

  • Questions, Answers, Comments
    • Q: Can co-ops (housing co-ops) increase rent due to change in income (can they increase rent with sur-benefit that changes your income, what can a person do if a coop asks them to pay a higher rent?)
      A: Co-ops are not covered under the Residential Tenancy Act, so you don’t have the same rights as a normal renter would. In some cases your rent can be tied to your income. If we don’t have an expert on that in the call, we can find a person who does know. Maybe a question to answer off-line via email.

    • Q: If I receive (government) assistance can I still apply for the $500/mo temporary rent supplement. If I’m already on some kind of assistance from govt do I qualify for assistance? Can I apply for supplement?
      A: 
      If you’re income/disability assistance, because the govt pays part of your rent from there, you’re not eligible, but if you’re on EI or the sur-benefit, then you are eligible for the rental subsidy
      [From https://www.bchousing.org/BCTRS: Tenants are not eligible if their rent is subsidized by any other government program. Other government programs include: subsidized housing; rent supplements such as Shelter Aid For Elderly Renters (SAFER) or the Rental Assistance Program (RAP); Income Assistance; and Disability Assistance.]
    • Comment: If co-ops not being covered in tenancy act, so we need to develop advocacy for co-ops... there are lots of people in co-ops
      Chair: If you’re interested in helping to start organizing co-ops, members can start a Working Group in this issue

Item 3: BC Rent Crisis Campaign & VTU's Response to COVID-19

  • Mazdak presents a summary of the VTU's BC Rent Crisis campaign and how it developed
    • Started with demand for a moratorium on all evictions during the pandemic
    • VTU hosted a "Phone Zap" to the BC Minister of Housing & Municipal Affairs; did a lot of media
    • B.C. Gov't said there would not be a total eviction ban on March 23, and then changed it to a total eviction ban on March 25 (a victory)
    • B.C. Gov't announced rent suppliment program that would not be delivered to renters in time for April 1st
    • VTU launched the BC Rent Crisis Toolkit page before the end of the month with supports for renters to organize their buildings and collectively negotiate with landlords
    • VTU joined other organizations with similar goals:
    • Even with gov't supports, many renters are worried about making rent for May.
    • Next step is another calling campaign called "Countdown to Rent Debt" calling for the province to cancel rents and mortgages during COVID-19 so that renters won't come out of the crisis in debt to their landlords
    • David: About 50 renters signed up for support with organizing their buildings. Difficult to build trust with social distancing (no face-to-face) but that work is ongoing

  • Questions, Answers, Comments
    • Q: How can people living in basement suites organize? A lot of people don’t live in apartment buildings. 
      A:  It’s possible to use these posters to organize with people in other buildings. Like a neighbourhood poster. I would encourage people to create email accounts like "your neighbourhood tenants at gmail dot com" or whatever you want to call it. I’ve heard of tenants putting them up at grocery stores and high traffic areas

    • Q: What kind of guarantee can we offer people to organize if they fear antagonizing their landlords. I live at __ Fearing renovictions and asking what kind of guarantee organizing can offer for tenants keeping safe.
      A: We have m
      embers attending this meeting who have gone through the process of organizing their buildings and winning at the RTB arbitration level, and the landlords have backed off. I believe [member] and neighbours were going through renoviction; they won the first round. As the second round was nearing the landlord just backed off after seeing the evidence package. 

    • Comment: I’ve been successful in walking around and talking to people on balconies about the BC Rent Crisis campaign, and I’ve been able to talk to some community mom and pop grocers who added pictures of the poster to their sites. And every day, I add the poster to the Craigslist ‘housing wanted’ and if anyone wants to join me in that, just go to Craisglist and put the poster up in mid-day under their name. We can post morning/noon/night with more accounts able to help.

    • Comment: Someone has been working on this and mentioned a couple of successes; buildings where tenants had organized and ended up doing collective bargaining with landlord; ended up receiving 30/50% reduction. We should share these stories. Some people assume rent strike is all or nothing, but there are other gains/wins we can share and celebrate. Can someone chime in who remembers which buildings.
    • Q: What can you do if a landlord is not returning a damage deposit when  someone moves out? Our management company is closed during COVID. 
      A: The best thing is to understand the legal rights about damage deposits. Go to Tenants.BC.ca There’s a template letter to send to landlord to get damage deposit back and if not you can file a dispute

    • Q: RE: Stragegy - Can we pull the now empty Air BnB properties into the rental market? They’ve experienced 65% drop in revenue.
      A: We have a City Hall Working Group going and short-term rentals Air BnB vs tenancy is on our radar. We’re looking to establish a sub-committee to look at that. If you’re interested in short-term/Air BnB send an email to info@vancouvertenantsunion.ca and put Air BnB in the subject line and we’ll get it to the City Hall working group.

  • New member Brendan Ladner is given a few minutes to pitch his "30% Solution" to members to save renters from rent debt

  • Meeting attendees go into "Breakout Rooms" to discuss ideas about next steps for the VTU during the COVID-19 rent crisis

NOTES FOR CAMPAIGN STRATEGY

  • We need to continue to organize and mobilize renters
    • Low barrier educational content helps build trust
    • What are new actions that renters can participate in at home?
    • More reporting on how tenant organizing is (or isn’t) working
  • Demands should focus on long term strategy for tenants’ needs
    • Gov’t benefits have lowered overall anxieties about paying rent 
    • Still a lot of uncertainty about what happens when benefits run out
    • Should VTU join some kind of coalition to stop AirBnB/short term rentals?

NOTES RE: Brendan Ladner’s “30% Proposal”

  • Why does 30% of income go up to 50% of income for Metro Vancouver?
  • Rent based on Income…
    • Might be a rent increase for some
    • Means your landlord will know your income
  • Suspicion about working with landlord lobby
    • Tenants should be collectively bargaining with landlords/landlord lobby
    • Class interests of landlords are different from tenants

Item 4: City of Vancouver Renters Services Grant Presentation

  • David presents an update on the VTU's application for the grant
    • Further reading here: https://www.vancouvertenantsunion.ca/city_renter_services_grant_update
    • Final considerations:
      • Budget is reduced from what was originally applied for
      • COVID-19 changes what is possible for public gatherings/educational seminars etc.
      • City has suggested they want to do “fact checking” prior to releasing information/materials covered by the grant - there was some concern with this - An email was sent to try to clarify this question. 
    • Members must vote on whether to accept the grant
    • Members will not be voting in the virtual meeting today, but a poll will be sent out via email

  • Questions, Answers, Comments

Item 5: General Announcements:

  • The Steering Committee had to cancel our AGM on March 26 due to the COVID crisis. Since that time, the BC government has given organizations like ours the legal ability to carry out business such as elections using digital platforms like the one we are using today. We also legally have until the end of this year to hold our AGM. With this in mind, the current Steering Committee will continue to monitor and assess whether to hold an online AGM or wait to see if an in-person one will be possible later this year. We will say right now that the latter option looks unlikely. So please stay tuned for upcoming announcements regarding when and how we will hold our AGM
  • Zoom Seminar (April 26) about tenant organizing hosted by Spring Magazine
  • City Hall Working Group: Cllr Jean Swanson putting forward a motion this week. Re: plans to clear Oppenheimer Park in recent time. The idea of putting homeless people in hotels is out there right now, but the question is out if that is sufficient to house homeless/invisible homeless population. City Hall WG is meeting every Friday @ 7pm
  • Member: The situation in Oppenheimer is not what it sounds like. I’m hearing that cops came in with a mass eviction of Oppenheimer Park. Advocates are saying this is not the step residents want taken on their community. They’re looking to have the most vulnerable housed, not the most visible. Oppenheimer has been a target for months and years for permanent eviction. There are possibly only 300 units, and it’s unclear what’s meant by hotels -- could also include SROs. We need to make sure to act in solidarity with the folks in Oppenheimer. We have to question how it’s being done to put people in housing, is it with consent, etc.

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