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Op-ed: No one should be prevented from using air conditioners in their home

Date 11 Aug, 2023

Category Advocacy Issues

This op-ed was originally published in the Vancouver Sun on August 11 2023. By Dr. Sarah Marsden, Director of Systems Change and Legal, and Katie Koncan, Director of Development and Communications

Summers are getting hotter in Vancouver and across B.C. every year. Two years ago, a deadly heat dome killed 619 people in the province. And yet, tenants are being prevented from installing air conditioners in their homes to protect themselves against extreme heat — fearing eviction or rent increases if they don’t comply.

First United is a direct-service provider in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside; we support people who are homeless or facing extreme poverty among other intersecting challenges. Earlier this year, we began work on law reform to prevent evictions and homelessness, and to improve protections for tenants in B.C., taking a systems-level approach to help the folks we see every day, building on the work we’ve been doing for nearly 140 years. We are pursuing law and policy reform because we believe systems-level change will have the greatest positive impact on people and communities.

On the issue of cooling requirements for residential buildings, we see an obvious gap in provincial law: The Residential Tenancy Act has no specific language on heating and cooling, and instead those issues are addressed through municipal bylaws.

However, the RTA does require rental homes to comply with health and safety standards and says that units must be “suitable for occupation.” If people are at risk of death because they are prevented from using or installing a cooling device in their home, this is blatantly inconsistent with a home that this “suitable for occupation,” and with the idea of basic health and safety.

The provincial government seems to agree in spirit: It launched an initiative earlier this summer to provide free air conditioners to “people who are medically vulnerable and have low incomes.” This is a positive step. But there are two fundamental limitations to this approach: first, that some landlords are reportedly preventing qualified tenants from using the program; and second, that tenants have to qualify at all. All tenants have the right to basic standards of health and safety in their homes — both those who are medically vulnerable and low income, and those who are not.

Perhaps most frustrating is that there are very clear regulations requiring a minimum level of heat in the winter, at least in the city of Vancouver. Under Vancouver’s Standards of Maintenance Bylaw, all residential buildings must have heating systems that can maintain every room at 22 degrees. There is a reason we don’t hear stories of tenants freezing to death in their homes or being denied adequate heating: because they have legal protections in place already.

But there are solutions. The provincial government and city of Vancouver (and all other municipalities) can take concrete steps to protect residents. The RTA could be amended to include that tenants are allowed to install and use air conditioning or cooling devices (Ontario has already taken this step). The Strata Property Act could also be changed to prohibit bylaws that stop residents from installing or using air conditioners or cooling devices. The city of Vancouver could amend the Standards of Maintenance bylaw to add that residential dwellings be coolable to 26 degrees, whether through inbuilt or additional appliances (the city of New Westminster is already considering a similar change).

These are three simple solutions that can be implemented quickly to improve conditions for thousands of people across B.C.

It’s understandable that laws like this aren’t already in place. Climate change is impacting us like never before. Twenty years ago, who would have thought air conditioning would be such an urgent issue? As a society, we’re always learning, growing and progressing. But now that we know, and now that we’ve seen hundreds die from extreme heat, we must act, and our laws must adapt. Any barrier posed to those who seek relief from skyrocketing temperatures inside their own home is cruel and unconscionable.

Nobody should have to choose between rent increases, eviction, or risk to their health and safety. If that is how bad the housing crisis has become, then B.C. is in the hot seat more than we realized.

We Need Low Income CERB Amnesty.

Date 10 Mar, 2023

Category Advocacy Issues

Since Canada’s economic relief packages went out, they have refunded clawbacks from seniors, given self-employed Canadians repayment amnesty, and partially provided relief for students. And, despite all that, they are now pursuing low-income Canadians to reclaim their benefits through clawbacks, wage reductions, or impossible-to-repay fines (upwards of $20,000 in some cases). This is not money that was put into a savings account ― people living in poverty need every dollar to meet their own basic needs. This money is gone. Pursuing repayment from people living below, at, or just above the poverty line will only exacerbate poverty and homelessness.

All of this will hurt those in already-difficult situations while the government has a different standard of accountability for businesses who accessed pandemic benefits.

All of this will worsen poverty while the government’s own stated goals are to reduce poverty.

Asking people to repay money they don’t have will only exacerbate poverty and the systemic challenges many already face ― we need to make sure this doesn’t happen. Please join us in supporting low-income CERB repayment amnesty for those who needed the relief the most and will be most impacted by these policies.

*This campaign has ended.

Tell Vancouver City Government we urgently need affordable housing solutions

Date 7 Dec, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues

British Columbia is experiencing an ongoing affordable housing crisis and Vancouver is the epicenter. Low-income, vulnerable, and marginalized populations are particularly at risk: cost of living continues to increase, fires and unsafe conditions continue to displace residents, and extreme cold and weather events make it even more dangerous for those who are underhoused or unhoused to be on the streets. 

The last Metro Vancouver homeless count took place in 2020 and showed that over 2,000 of our neighbours were experiencing homelessness. And, we know that point-in-time counts like these are vast under-representations of the true scope of the issue. On the heels of a global pandemic and soaring cost of living, we fear that significantly more in our community are finding themselves without a stable roof over their heads.

It is time for all levels of government to take bold, urgent action. While the Province and City of Vancouver recently announced they are working together to build 90 units of temporary modular housing by March 2023, with support services in place—more must be done.

There are still hundreds of people living outdoors in encampments and without immediate solutions, they will face another winter in unsafe conditions.

516 individuals signed onto the petition. The contents of the petition can be found below.

Updated January 20th, 2023

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