A letter I just sent off to as many relevant and irrelevant actors as I could think of:
I live in an apartment building on the Grandview Cut in East Vancouver. I have lived in one room here for thirty years. It is my home, and my roots in the community--including the community of this building, where numerous neighbours have lived for decades--are deep. My income, however, is low. I am on CPP and Persons with Disabilities Income Assistance, totalling a little over $900 a month.
With the new zoning my building has been sold and will be destroyed. Some people are making a nice bit of money off of this, and good for them. The housing they will create has to be offered to us, the evictees: how likely do you think it is that I or most of my neighbours will be able to afford to accept? At my income, there is no way I can find market housing in Vancouver, a city where I have lived for most of my fifty-nine years. Even the worst and most insecure rooms in the Downtown Eastside are skyrocketting in price.
I voted for Gregor Robertson. Twice. I believed there was a vision there that I could get behind, and I trusted him. But I have been deceived. I agree that we need greater density in our cities, just as I agree we need to be more environmentally responsible. But what happens to the vulnerable? What happens to me?
There is a lot of noise about affordable housing coming from all levels of government, but where is it? There are over four thousand seniors on waiting lists for subsidized housing in B.C., and Lord knows how many other folk are clamouring for help. Why are you allowing developers to destroy our homes and not forcing them to include actually affordable housing for low income people? Yes, in the same buildings. We would love to live in them, too.
What is your vision for the city? That all the poor are corralled into blocks built only for them, and those that can't find even that just go away? I have never wanted to go into BC Housing. I have chosen instead to stay in a mixed building, where there are old, young, children, pets, students, workers, disabled, pensioners, even a little backyard wildlife, all together the way a community is supposed to be. You are breaking my heart.
If I want to stay in this neighbourhood where I have lived for thirty-five years, I must finally try to find subsidized housing. The waiting list, I am told, is two and a half to three years on average. How long will it take for the permits to be granted so they can tear my building down? Eighteen months to two years, the landlord says. And so where do I go, where do we all go, all of us all over the Lower Mainland, all over the country, who are having our homes destroyed because it is a great market to make money in, but not, apparently, a great market to provide low-income housing? If you don't want to build enough good, safe, community-oriented, integrated subsidized housing, then why do you keep the CPP and Welfare rates so low that we can't afford to live? Do you care at all? Do you really want to turn your back on the reality and just make yourselves look good by promoting one or two new facilities while we are facing the workhouse, here?
All right, I am getting overwrought, you are right. I know that is not how we are supposed to behave. But how would you feel, Gregor, Christy, any of you, if suddenly and for the second time you were about to lose your home, with nowhere to go and no money to get there, because somebody else thought it would benefit them?
The thing is, you have probably (and I hope it is so) never known that kind of fear. You have probably grown up in safe housing, and always known that if you didn't have the money now to get the kind of living arrangement you wanted, you soon would. Patience and hard work would get you there. In such worlds it is hard to even imagine the terror and grief that wash over those who have not been so lucky, and who face losing everything.
I, too, have been patient. I have cultivated patience of necessity to a degree I could not have imagined when I was young, because so very often in my life I have simply had no choice--no choice about illness, no choice about poverty, no choice about loss. I have grown that patience like a tender plant, so that I could live with equanimity in spite of all those lacks, and focus instead on the bounty in my life.
And I have worked very hard, if almost never for pay. I have worked to serve the vulnerable people around me, family and neighbours, I have worked to preserve my health, I have worked to try to make this world a better place. Now I face my coming old age with a gnawing in my bones.
So no, Gregor. I will never vote for you again. I expect nothing from any of you, much as I wish and pray for it--not even that you will ever read this letter. But I had to speak.
And I can't quite extinguish the hope that I will find, somehow, a place to live where I can feel safe, and happy, and at home, without losing everything I have in the meantime because I and it have no place to rest. You had better wish me luck.
Casey June Wolf
Image: Home (2015)