I think it is about time that our City Council and our Provincial Government did something about all these evictions that are going on, and all these terrible rent increases… I think we should have some action from the people we elected to give us some protection and a right to live in some security and dignity, instead of being kicked around like so many of us are.
–single father Victor* in a letter to Vancouver City Council, January 1974.
We bring our world with us into the archives. I’ve been reminded of this over the last week, as I commute across Vancouver to spend my days reading letters from tenants like Victor. This city is ground zero for Canada’s housing crisis, with the highest rents, lowest vacancy rate, and smallest proportion of affordable units in the country. My daily trip to the municipal archives brings home the profound housing inequalities that define the Canadian city in 2023, uncomfortably juxtaposing new condo towers with emergency housing in tents and beige portables, and luxury SUVs with people experiencing homelessness and distress. I take those images and that discomfort with me to the research room.
Voices from the past remind me that crises of housing affordability and access are not bugs but a feature of Canada’s profit-oriented rental housing market. Or, as housing researcher Ricardo Tranjan put it in the Walrus this year, for tenants “Canada’s ‘housing crisis’ is a permanent state of affairs”. Victor was just one of thousands of Vancouver renters who in the late 1960s and 1970s spoke out against evictions without cause, excessive rent increases, and their lack of a political voice. Continue reading