Making the Invisible Renter Visible

These resources are essential, but what Vancouver needs is more data on renters. According to the 2018 Canadian Housing Survey, Vancouver and BC still have the highest percentage of forced moves in Canada, despite initiatives by the provincial government.[1] We know that renters outnumber owners and that they’re vulnerable to renovictions, but in what numbers and where, specifically? What affordable housing stock is left, and what condition it is in? What is the household income, job situation, gender, and so on of those forced to move?  Answering these questions will help level the playing field between renters and owners and developers so we can make a more equitable city.

I plan to use Kitsilano as a case study, and my immediate goal is to document renter data on income levels and mobility to identify potential rental-only zones so Vancouver can follow in New Westminster’s footsteps. Putting a halt to renovictions will allow renters to experience the right to “stay put” in affordable housing under rental-zoning bylaws.

I take my inspiration from a recent student project by students at the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.[2] The goal of the study was to create a city-wide plan for an equitable Vancouver, a plan that would protect and enhance the character of the city while making it more affordable. The fifteen students focused on a six-to-eight block area to explore in detail how to solve, at the site scale, the project goals. Each student took up aspects of the bigger plan and implemented them in their work. The outcome was a set of practical and affordable solutions that could easily be adapted and deployed in any part of the city and would eventually lead to an affordable, sustainable city.

To get at who these people are, I plan to conduct surveys, interviews, and have renters use a crowd-sourced map to document in real-time their income levels and situations of forced moves.[3] My work experience from Statistics Canada as an interviewer will help me with these surveys and questionnaire designs, and I plan to develop a robust data set according to TCPS 2 standards. Through door-to-door canvassing, I will identify people who live in apartment rental buildings, because they tend to be in the lowest-income group. I do not plan to include renters who live in single-detached homes because their landlords have full autonomy over “landlord use” evictions, leaving renters completely at the will of the landlord.

I plan to use predesigned questionnaires and will keep to the same script for each renter, asking questions such as the following:

  • In what decade was your apartment building built?
  • Do you think your purpose-built rental unit is being maintained – that is, the landlord repairs plumbing leaks, restores hot-water central heating, cleans out the furnace, repairs broken cupboards, maintains adequate heating year round?
  • Does your landlord refuse to do the repairs just listed and, if so, what do you think is the reason for their refusal?
  • How would you describe your relationship with your landlord/property manager in terms of regular maintenance: nonexistent, fair, good, or excellent.
  • Have you experienced a forced move within the last five years?
  • If so, can you chose the nearest range: within the last three years or within the last year?
  • If you had the choice to stay put, which of the following defines your situtation?
    1. My unit is adequately maintained/repairs are done in a timely way, the property manager always answers my phone messages and comes right away to make repairs
    2. I do all my repairs and never ask the property manager or landlord to do them.
  • If there are repairs, can you name them? For example, fixing a leaking faucet, restoring heating, cleaning out the furnace, replacing broken cupboard hinges, having an electrician reinstall a working light switch or ceiling light fixture.

I’m particularly interested in documenting housing insecurity (the percentage of tenants living in subsidized housing and the percentage of households spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing) coupled with job insecurity (unemployment, and the percent of people working in “soft” service industry). The correlation between household income and renter status will be documented using census data. And both are influenced by gender. Marina Adshade, UBC professor and the BC Women’s Health Foundation economist, reports in Unmasking Gender Inequity, that 53 percent of women work in either retail, health care, education, or accommodation and food services — four sectors that were the first to feel the brunt of job losses and for a longer time.[4] Valerie Crooks and Nadine Schuurman at SFU have mapped out how, during COVID-19, those who experience poverty, are homeless or precariously housed, or identify as disabled or racialized are more likely to experience the pandemic’s secondary health impacts,[5] which can lead to forced moves and job loss.

My goal would be to create a crowd-sourced map to track

  • renters who have staved off renovictions through sweat equity
  • renters forced to move out of their unit
  • job loss and income levels
  • renter mobility in general, which would include working poor (particularly women who faced the greatest job loss during the pandemic shutdowns) to determine where they were forced to move to and whether they had to leave the city altogether
  • the age of existing housing
  • the location of affordable housing within Kitsilano.

My project recognizes the creative resilience of Kitsilano renters and aims to collect and integrate their knowledge into Vancouver’s housing policy. Renters would have full access to the crowdsourced map, which would be based on the nearest intersection to where they live to protect their identities.

This research will contribute to the local-level movement of scholars, activists, and university students dedicated to shining a light on the dark side of Vancouverism and overturning the forces of inequality and housing unaffordability. Within the coronavirus-ravaged economy, more and more families will likely face evictions. On March 1st, 2021, the British Columbia government announced it will introduce legislative changes to extend a rent freeze through to December 2021 to stop illegal “renovictions.” But we have a chance to go much further. Naomi Klein, during Democracy Now, 2020 asked, “Why not use this crisis to rewrite the eviction-enabling statutes that let corporate landlords enrich themselves at the expense of vulnerable families in the first place?” Let’s shift that dynamic by making Vancouver the least likely place to experience a forced move based on income inequality.

  1. Jens von Bergmann, “Forced Out in Canada: New Data from CHS,” Mountain Doodles,
  2. A City-Wide Plan for an Equitable Vancouver – the Protection and Enhancement of the Character of Vancouver While Aiming to Solve the Crisis of Unaffordability: A Project by the Students of UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Master of Urban Design Program, Class of 2020. In author’s possession. Courtesy of Patrick Condon and Kaenate Seth, eds., 2020, UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Design.
  3. Crowd-sourced maps are being used, for example, to track what is happening to local newspapers, broadcast news outlets, and online news sites in Canada. See the Geothink project,
  4. BC Women’s Health Foundation, Unmasking Gender Inequality, See also GillianWheatley, “Pandemic Job Losses Threaten to Leave Women behind Permanently, RBC Warns,” CBC, March 4, 2021.
  5. Valerie Crooks and Nadine Shuurman et al., “Mapping the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Secondary Health Impacts: Exploring Contributing Factors across British Columbia’s Neighbourhoods,”


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