Disclosure: A member of the Constellation Media board of directors is also executive vice president of the BC General Employees’ Union. The BCGEU has endorsed this campaign. As per our policy, the BCGEU had no input into this story.
On one side of the negotiating table, the province. On the other side, a union representing B.C.’s renters.
That’s the vision of Rent.Strike.Bargain, a volunteer group currently working to organize tenants across the province.
Local news that matters to you
No one covers the Tri-Cities like we do. But we need your help to keep our community journalism sustainable.
“Our goal is for renters in B.C. to have the right to collectively bargain but to do that you have to organize at a very broad level,” explained organizer Stephanie Langford.
While no date was given, the campaign recently reaffirmed plans to organize in the Tri-Cities. Rent.Strike.Bargain also worked to organize tenants’ unions in Vancouver, New Westminster, Nelson and Burnaby.
The campaign is largely about “seeding and building tenant unions,” often moving from one building to another to garner support.
In some cases, Rent.Strike.Campaign might offer to support to a union that would consist strictly of residents living in one building, possibly helping those tenants advocate for better conditions or for lower rates for new renters. (Landlords in B.C. can raise rents as they choose after a tenant moves out.) However, there are other cases, such as when one investment company owns several buildings, that a broader coalition would make sense, Langford explained.
Rather than advocating for rent strikes, Rent.Strike.Bargain is attempting to co-ordinate with local organizations that could push for a strike based on the majority of building tenants.
“We want the right to withhold rent or strike if necessary to achieve housing justice,” the group stated in its campaign fact sheet.
However, to move forward they often need tenants willing to risk reprisals from their landlords, according to Langford.
“There’s a lot of fear among tenants to speak out,” she said. “They don’t want to make any waves.”
Rent.Strike.Bargain members are “often harassed,” Langford said, discussing their efforts to go from door-to-door in a building to recruit tenants.
“I have been kicked out quite aggressively.”
Speaking to CTV News, Rent.Strike.Bargain campaigner Will Gladman pointed to a similar movement in San Francisco that was able to push for an ordinance mandating landlords to meet with renters’ associations on a quarterly basis.
Langford discussed possibly hosting an international forum with tenant activists from San Francisco and Los Angeles this fall.
Rent Strike Bargain has also reached out to labour unions for support.
Over a 10-year period, housing costs rose 50 percent in Metro Vancouver while the median income among renters increased 13 percent, according to a report from Urban Matters.
From 2005 to 2019, the median rent for a three-bedroom apartment in Coquitlam rose nearly 80 percent, going from $1,050 to $1,888.
In Coquitlam, 33 percent of renters – approximately 4,545 households – are in core housing need. Core housing need is defined as spending more than 30 percent of your income on housing. Residents living in conditions that are unhealthy or in a state of disrepair can also be defined as living in core housing need.
There are approximately 1,790 Port Coquitlam renter households in core housing need. Recent immigrants, Indigenous people, and residents with disabilities are over-represented in those statistics.
Approximately 20 percent of Port Moody residents are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
There are also 675 Port Moody households in “extreme core need,” meaning more than half of every paycheque goes toward keeping a roof over their heads. That figure represents an 80 percent increase from 2006, when 375 households were considered “extreme core need.”