We, Women Transforming Cities and the UBC Social Justice Centre, strongly support Councillor Jean Swanson’s Motion, “Protecting Tenants from Real Estate Investments,” which calls on the Mayor to write to the federal government, expressing concern over the growing influence of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) in BC, and requires city staff to investigate ways the City of Vancouver can mitigate the harm caused by REITs.
We urge city councillors to stand with lower-income tenants and to respond to the urgent homelessness crisis that disproportionately impacts Indigenous and racialized women, youth, and seniors, who are at risk of displacement due to the growing influence of REITs in our city.
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our profit-driven, corporatized housing system has displaced or threatens the basic rights of tens of thousands of poor and working-class people in British Columbia––many of whom are facing the interlocking violence of gendered and racialized oppression including job losses, only magnified by the impacts of COVID-19.
By combining capital from multiple investors, REITs invest in real estate assets, allowing investors to receive returns without owning the buildings themselves. Just a month ago, two Ontario-based REITs, InterRent REIT and Crestpoint RET, acquired 15 rental buildings in Vancouver in a deal worth over $292 million. These investment trusts have a strong incentive to evict tenants, increase rents, and introduce new, wealthier tenants, thus driving displacement and gentrification.
As outlined in the motion, Real Estate Investment Trusts control 20% of units in Canada, and 4% in BC. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness recommends “measures to curtail the impacts of financialization of rental housing markets by limiting the ability of large capital funds (including Real Estate Income Trusts – REITS) to purchase ‘distressed’ rental housing assets.”
We believe protecting tenants from the practices of Real Estate Investment Trusts that lead to increased rent and evictions is an essential component of mitigating the deepening housing crisis in Vancouver, and setting an example for other municipalities across the province.
We also support city staff to explore the implementation of “the right of first refusal,” in which the municipality has priority over any other buyer in order to carry out projects for the benefit of the community–it has been a successful solution to the shortage of social and community housing in Montreal and should be an essential component in the City’s ongoing work to secure housing for all.
We also believe that the city should take all steps necessary to use proactive solutions available on a municipal level––such as vacancy control and women-friendly housing––to minimize the harm caused by REITs and other housing-based exploitation.
We urge councillors to vote in support of this motion and stand with all renters in Vancouver.