Downtown Eastside tenants rally against hikes at Ross House
In 2006, after the overdose death of his teenage son Ross, West Vancouver businessman Charles Haynes bought a 24-room boarding house at 313 Alexander St. in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to help provide a safe place for area residents who face challenges.
He called it Ross House to honour his son who died from drugs at age 19.
That spirit of helping recovering addicts and the downtrodden of the area was challenged Monday as residents of Ross, along with low-income housing advocates, held a protest after Haynes, without warning, hiked the rents of most people inside the single-room-occupancy facility by at least $200.
For Aurora Dunkley-Johnson, 23, she was told she was being kicked out of her room immediately, because she was taking part in Monday’s rent-hike demonstration. She was recently told her rent would go from $450 a month to $660. Her belongings were put in storage and her door pass was deactivated Monday without the normal eviction process.
Due to her ignorance in tenant law, Dunkley-Johnson said the owner had her sign a month-to-month lease, leaving her with little tenant rights.
“I was bullied into signing it,” she said. “If I had known my rights, I never would have signed it.”
The manager of the building is Haynes’ daughter, Ashley, and she made the decision to evict Dunkley-Johnson.
Low-income housing advocate Jean Swanson said Haynes’ use of fix-term leases is deplorable.
“It means residents can be evicted for no reason,” she said. “It is a way to escape the provisions of the Residential Tenancy Act.”
Swanson said tenants were told to go to Carnegie outreach to get help with a rent subsidy.
“Carnegie outreach is not giving rent subsidies,” she said.
And she said the tenants were coerced into signing the fixed-term deals for fear of being put out on the street.
“Many who signed did not know what they were about,” she said of the agreement.
Among those told his rent was being raised beyond his ability to pay was Michael Desbiens. His rent has been bumped from $500 to $660 — a challenge, as he gets a monthly social-assistance cheque of $610. He too was forced to sign a fixed-term lease.
Desbiens said he had to sign or he was out on the street.
“It is either sign it or stay in a homeless shelter,” he said.
Charles Haynes said the rent increases aren’t out of line. And he said tenants can get rent subsidies through the City of Vancouver and the Atira Women’s Resource Society, something housing advocates say isn’t the case.
“We understand that the city and Atira were chipping in to top up the rents,” he said.
He said they’re good, not-greedy landlords and have run a top-notch SRO since buying the building. “There is one group trying to make us out to be bad landlords,” he said.
Michael Desbiens, right, is one of several people directly affected by the rent increase at Ross House, which will raise rents by at least $200. Left, Aurora Dunkley-Johnson speaks out on Monday about being evicted.