Down­town East­side ten­ants rally against hikes at Ross House

The Province - - NEWS - JOHN COLEBOURN jcole­[email protected]­media.com

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.

MARK VAN MANEN/PNG

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.

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