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Homes, Not Investments, Say Advocates

Q&As with HALT and Vancouver Is Falling. Part two in a series on locals fighting the housing crisis.

By Christopher Cheung 21 Mar 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Christopher Cheung reports on urban issues for The Tyee. Find his previous stories here and follow him on Twitter at @bychrischeung.

[Editor’s note: We are profiling new housing advocacy groups in Vancouver tackling the many symptoms of unaffordability. This is part two in a series .]

582px version of HALTLogo.jpg

A non-partisan community action group demanding that all levels of Canadian government address the affordability crisis caused by the influx of global capital.

Start date: February 2016.

Funded by: Volunteer time. Event costs are shared by core members. We have never accepted funds from outside the group. Instead, we ask people to be informed on the issues and take action.

Spokespeople: Justin Fung (an engineering manager in tech who grew up in Vancouver), with help from Raza Mirza (a principal engineering lead, also in tech, immigrated 10 years ago), Gary Liu and Raymond Wong.

How did your group get started?

The original members of HALT team came to know each other on social media, while sharing personal challenges and stories of concerning housing trends. After seeing how pro-development special interest groups were controlling the narrative online and in the city, they decided to step out of cyberspace, meet and organize to help change the public conversation on housing.

Our original members have very different backgrounds and housing situations, but are all working, taxpaying professionals who love living here and are driven to protect the community and its future for our children.

We have 15 members who handle day-to-day functions (like media engagement, government relations, managing social media and day-to-day engagement with people who support HALT) and additional members help us when we plan our events.

How do you view the housing situation in Vancouver?

Vancouver, and indeed B.C., has a problem of commodification of homes. Instead of a place to live and raise families, homes are seen as commodities and stocks to build, park and hide wealth, often unvetted, from all over the world. Predatory local speculators and real estate professionals are enabling this.

How do you think we should fix this?

We need to return the function of home as a place to live for those who live, work and pay taxes here. We need to address unvetted foreign capital parked in our homes, address speculation, hidden ownership and tax evasion, and heavily penalize local professionals who break laws.

What are some of your impacts?

We held two very successful events: the Halt the Madness rally in September 2016 and HALT Super Plate 2017 last April, advertised as a mock “cash-for-access” event for the BC Liberals that featured $50,000 plates of grilled cheese.

We also have a dedicated team which engages with elected officials regularly and pushes for policies like B.C. Housing Affordability Fund and closing the “bare trust” loophole . While we cannot take full credit, the NDP government has adopted these policies in their recent budget.

A housing story to share?

Raza lived in a two-bedroom apartment as part of a household of seven for almost a year because he couldn’t find reasonable accommodation even with the salary of a professional tech worker.

What makes your group unique compared to other housing advocacy groups?

Because we HALT Members are hard-working locals with different professions and very different housing situation and needs, we do not have an ideological war against specific built forms.

Instead of solutions of supply, we mostly identify root problems and advocate for them to be addressed first.

We are working towards a community that local families can call home.

Where do you hope to see the city in a decade?

We would like to see homes being used as homes, transparency and open data on housing and tax collection, policy driven by those numbers and strictly enforced strong penalties for actors involved in financial crime.

***

582px version of VancouverIsFallingLogo.jpg
Courtesy of Vancouver Is Falling. Image by David Fine.

A Vancouver housing Facebook group; some of its members recently formed an activist group, Affordability Action Hub.

Start date: September 2016.

Run by: Brad Barrett (lived and worked in Vancouver for 17 years). Members submit content.

Members: 3,322 and counting; 2,955 were active within the past 60 days, which means they’ve reacted or responded to a post.

Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/groups/vanfalling/

How did the group get started?

A month after the BC Liberals introduced the Foreign Buyer Tax, the detached housing market in Vancouver had seemed to freeze following the introduction and sales were much lower than earlier months. An anonymous person who had inside information created the group to report on sales and prices with the anticipated desire of a falling market, hence the name Vancouver Is Falling. Due to Facebook’s requirement of using your real name, the person was unfortunately reported and banished a couple of months later.

At that point I [Brad Barrett] took over the group and continued to report information I was provided relating to real estate while also facilitating and moderating the discourse in the group.

What’s the Facebook group like?

Vancouver Is Falling has always been focused on educating the public and members through sharing articles, knowledge and discussion. There is a lot of diversity in topics and very articulate and smart discussions.

We also try to moderate fairly so not to try to stymie conversation, but we won’t allow for discussions to go to an ugly place where someone is relentlessly attacking other opinions or worse.

We also now have a large number of journalists, media and experts as well as many of our municipal, provincial and federal politicians.

Do members lean toward certain solutions?

The majority of the members tend to lean towards a bearish view of the market with a hope of a return to more affordable prices. We’d like to see action primarily on the demand side to reduce the flows of international money affecting the market, as well as action on the flipping of property. We also have strong views that the Agricultural Land Reserve should be better protected. Short-term rentals should be reduced and we need to increase the rental supply by focusing on empty, under-utilized homes.

On the supply side, many of us are for purpose-built rental and rental-inclusive zoning in areas around transit hubs. Luxury-built condos and housing that has caused gentrification and displacement of previously affordable housing needs to be strongly discouraged, as well as avoiding evictions by demolishing what affordable rental housing is left.

How do you think the group has made an impact?

I hope to think that we’ve impacted government decisions within the recent budget through our advocacy and letter-writing campaigns. We also engaged many people during the provincial election to get out to vote and try to promote change. We also continue to educate the general public and hope that those around us better understand and continue to protest the negative things impacting the market. We often have new members that say they have their eyes opened after learning about what’s exposed.

Also, we have an activist group called the Affordability Action Hub that spun out of our membership. They hosted a rally before the budget to encourage action. The group has also been mentioned in a number of national articles including Globe and Mail, Maclean’s and Reuters.

Aside from discussing headlines, are there a lot of personal stories too?

We have received dozens of heartfelt stories from members — some public shared, some privately messaged — from parents trapped in unhealthy housing situations to realtors feeling hopeless dealing with clients that can’t afford to live here. Even local doctors afraid to share their housing situations publicly in fear their patients would become aware; they desperately wanting to see a more rational market so they aren’t forced out of the city they love.

Part three: Advocates fighting to restore affordability for younger Canadians and standing against development when it displaces people, heritage and culture.  [Tyee]

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