Vancouver renters form union in fight against city's housing crisis

May 1 2017, 10:30 pm

Darlene Bertholet knows first-hand the struggle of dealing with Vancouver’s current rental housing crisis.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Bertholet quit her job as a professional cook, after feeling burnt out.

Back on the job market, she found work in retail, making $12 an hour.

And at that wage, it wasn’t long before the reality of the city’s cost of living quickly set in.

“I realized how quickly poverty can eat you alive,” she told Daily Hive. “I started going hungry in between paycheques and walking to and from work for an hour because I couldn’t afford to take the bus.”

Eventually, Bertholet, who has lived in Vancouver almost all her life, found a new job as a freelance film production assistant and “it saved my life.”

One of the lucky ones

Today, the 29-year-old considers herself “one of the lucky ones.”

And she is now part of – and spokesperson for – the newly-formed Vancouver Tenants Union, which aims to give a louder voice to those struggling with low wages and high costs.

The idea for the Tenants Union was born in the living room of a Downtown Eastside community organizer in the middle of March, Bertholet explained.

She added that the idea for the group had been in the works for a while, but the “right group of people were needed” to come together and make it happen.

And that group has grown quickly.

“In the original coordinating committee there were about 30 people volunteering their time and resources and a core group of about twelve that has worked on it almost every day,” she said.

Since its official launch, the group has gained over 240 new members.

A necessary creation

The creation of the Tenants Union came in response to “the cost of housing spiralling out of control in this city and province, and a failure to act by all levels of government,” explained Bertholet. “The people most at risk are being ignored by the government.”

In addition, she added, “there’s the fact that wages have been stagnant for the last ten years while the cost of living has skyrocketed.”

Since “5o% of Vancouverites are renters,” she added, “our best bet is to protect ourselves, each other and the most vulnerable, by banding together to create a base of political and structural power.”

A multi-point mission

The group has a mission that it hopes it will accomplish from its formation:

According to Bertholet, the group’s top objectives are:

  • to have all of the loopholes in the RTA that allow for no fault evictions to be closed
  • to have rent control implemented on rental units between tenancies.
  • to ensure a livable income for every renting person.
  • To increase the social housing supply by 10,000 units per year until the defecit is closed.

The group would also like to see the implementation of a $15 minimum wage and $1500  welfare, disability and fixed income rate. “People are currently often having to choose between food and paying rent and that is shameful,” Bertholet added.

‘Going to have to contend with us”

With the provincial election on May 9 looming ever- closer, the group has a simple message for those who would be in power: “Whoever gets elected is going to have to contend with us,” said Bertholet. “We are committed to lobbying any and all governments to see that we achieve our goals. Our aim is to have a union representative in every rental unit in Vancouver and eventually have all renting people in Vancouver in this union.”

Those who wish to get involved with the Vancouver Tenants Union can email the group directly or visit the union’s website.

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