LETTER: This is what renoviction does

I am gutted, as I’m sure everyone in my building is. I feel sick about what I am going to do about an affordable home in the very near future.

I got a niggling feeling when I saw the assortment of SUVs drive up to park and deposit occupants who then appeared to be thoughtfully mulling over the bones of my neat and modest three-storey apartment building here in New Westminster.

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This small building of 54 homes is where Frank lives. His mobility is restricted to a wheelchair and he just went through a fight with cancer. It is the home of several families with small children. There are families whose children have grown from small to tall here. There’s a young pregnant woman who was hoping to make a home here for her soon-to-be child. We are a group of seniors, immigrants, people with disabilities and the working poor.

We are all people of low incomes. Like me, they probably thought they were lucky to land a decent affordable apartment. There are people who have lived in this building 20 years or more. Our compassionate manager, who always asked me how I was doing, like the rest of us, is being put out of the building as well. We had found a home. We hung pictures, placed furniture just so and made our spaces cosy and comfortable. Now we’ll have to dismantle it all.

Our building used to be called Westcourt Manor, but it isn’t anymore. The awning was stripped of its name and address, leaving only a partial awning baring a gaping maw of fluorescent bulbs with lighting so bright it shines into the apartments across the street. The new owners (the M1 group) are so arrogant they apparently don’t care about the lives of those tenants either.

So I watched as those people took photos and made notes on clipboards. A while later, we received word our building had been sold. Life went on, but it was clear something suspicious was happening. I noticed the two giant trees suddenly had “protection fences” around them with placards citing two municipal bylaws that I now know have to do with protecting the trees during construction.

A couple of suites became vacant and weren’t fixed or rented. The landscaping that was once so lovingly tended began to become neglected. The grass is growing long and unruly, branches of gangly shrubs reach for sun, weeds are beginning to thrive and it all suffers from lack of water.

 When we were suddenly instructed to pay our rent to a numbered company, 322 Apartments inc., alarm bells went off, and with good reason. We’ve became just another real estate acquisition and for us it signalled the beginning of the end. A little Googling revealed that the new owner boasts an inventory of shiny new and very expensive freshly renovated properties. Nice if you can afford them, but none of us can. We simply can’t.

We now live in a nameless building that’s slated for renoviction because that’s what they do, and they’re proud of it.

This all happened in a matter of months. On June 3, 2017, a gloomy Saturday, I got a notice through my mail slot informing me that the new owners were just waiting on the city permits that will grant them the power to evict me from my home. They’ve already done just that to my neighbours upstairs. The other shoe has definitely dropped.

Talk about picking on the little guy. All of us are vulnerable tenants whose rights are being trampled upon. We’ve all been displaced with literally nowhere to go in the city we call home.

Bureaucrats ushered this through with lightning fast speed, apparently rubber stamping this project through with little to no consideration for what it will do to the local community much less all of the individuals affected. This does not serve the greater good.

It’s wrong on so many levels. Where are the checks and balances? What happened to decency and humanity? We’ve all been scrambling to make some arrangements.  There is a very real probability some of us will find ourselves couch-surfing, homeless, while we wait for a new home, probably not in our community. We’re sharing information so we can all help one another through this. That’s the way proper society works.

I’m sure more developers are eyeing up the plentiful stock of other affordable New Westminster buildings that just could use superficial sprucing up. These companies are not asking tenants to leave for a few months so we can come back at the same affordable rents. They could do renos around us, for us, but they don’t want low-income tenants. They want tenants who will gladly pay the seemingly cheap “market” rents of New Westminster. Rents that have been pushed up into the stratospheric thanks to a real estate market allowed to spiral out of control. There is absolutely no calculation of the human cost nor thought given to the fact that low-income tenants are being displaced so companies may profit in this way. How is it that in a city where change occurs at a much slower and considered pace that a solid building of 54 and truly affordable suites of rental stock are allowed to become unaffordable for the average resident of New West?

With other developments it would appear the intent has to be clearly indicated to the community, but for some reason this protocol is ignored in the case of a renoviction. It’s the dirty little secret that no one discovers until it can’t be hidden any longer; almost as if the aim of it is to catch the residents off guard. It smacks of an almost punitive nature. This practice was clearly on the city’s radar. After all, this is a prescient and very real threat to the vulnerable in our city. It was only in 2016 a resolution was made to specifically address this issue and yet here it is, happening just like that. And back here at 322 it didn’t take long from the time of the sale for the first eviction notices to be issued. ABC,123 and easy peazy, just like that it was done.

Danita Adams is a resident of New Westminster.

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