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Mad as hell and not going to take it….

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‪Our story became front page news on The Record yesterday, June 22, but I wonder if we’re even truly on the radar of the politicians who are playing political hot potato with people’s lives. The story, http://www.newwestrecord.ca/news/fighting-for-future-renters-in-the-city-1.20734114#sthash.bbP1rCFY.uxfs‬ shows the photo of Peggy Casey and below chronicles the timeline of how this particular renoviction went down. Oh yes, eviction due to renovations, a palatable term that politicians and developers prefer use to describe what is really going on, but let’s call a spade a spade. People are being displaced from their homes for profit, plain and simple. I’m sure cities would prefer buildings with aesthetically appeal lining their city blocks. I’d like to live in one, an affordable one, wouldn’t we all? There’s renovations to suites that could and should have been done for the tenants living here, but that didn’t happen. Instead these buildings were allowed to age out with cosmetic changes made to the exteriors.

Meanwhile we get caught in the middle. I’ve lived here 5 years.  I’m making some noise, seeking out my options, searching for resources, trying to make something happen all while trying to find a home for myself and my cat. This is beyond easier said than done. It seems a lost cause but that’s not going to stop me. In the latest city of many that has allowed those with money to determine the future face of all our communities, a renter with a low income doesn’t count. At least that is the way it feels, but more than that, our governments have demonstrated that this is true by simply turning their backs on us or shrugging their shoulders at a problem that needs shoulders and will put into it. Our local MLA is sympathetic but her hands are tied. For starters BC doesn’t even have a proper government yet. Even if there was the will there is always the endless consultations, studies and reports that tell all of us what we already know. I would bargain those people being paid very well to consult, study and report on the situation aren’t being put out of their homes. 

I walk through my neighbourhood and I can almost see all the low rises being “renovated”. Where will those people go? Don’t kid yourself. We’re not just fighting, we’re fighting for our lives here.

Anatomy of a renoviction or as The Record calls it….

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This is what a renoviction does…

Letter to the editor of The Record published Thursday, June 15, 2017

I am gutted, as I’m sure everyone in my building is. I feel sick about what I am going to do about an affordable home in the very near future. I got a niggling feeling when I saw the assortment of SUVs drive up to park and deposit occupants who then appeared to be thoughtfully mulling over the bones of my neat and modest 3 storey apartment building here in New Westminster. This small building of 54 homes is where Frank lives. His mobility is restricted to a wheelchair and he just went through a fight with cancer. It is the home of several families with small children. There are families whose children have grown from small to tall here. There’s a young pregnant woman who was hoping to make a home here for her soon-to-be child. We are a group of seniors, immigrants, people with disabilities and the working poor. We are all people of low incomes. Like me, they probably thought they were lucky to land a decent affordable apartment. There are people who have lived in this building 20 years or more. Our compassionate manager, who always asked me how I was doing, like the rest of us, is being put out of the building as well. We had found home. We hung pictures, placed furniture just so and made our spaces cozy and comfortable. Now we’ll have to dismantle it all. 

Our building used to be called Westcourt Manor, but it isn’t anymore. The awning was stripped of its name and address, leaving only a partial awning baring a gaping maw of fluorescent bulbs with lighting so bright it shines into the apartments across the street. The new owners (theM1group) so arrogant they apparently don’t care about the lives of those tenants either.

So I watched as those people took photos and made notes on clipboards. Awhile later we received word our building had been sold. Life went on but it was clear something suspicious was happening. I noticed the two giant trees suddenly had “protection fences” erected around them with placards citing 2 municipal bylaws that I now know have to do with protecting the trees during construction. A couple of suites became vacant and weren’t fixed or rented. The landscaping that was once so lovingly tended began to become neglected, the grass growing long and unruly branches of gangly shrubs reach for sun. Weeds are beginning to thrive and it all suffers from lack of water.

 When we were suddenly instructed to pay our rent to a numbered company, 322 Apartments inc., alarm bells went off and with good reason. We’ve became just another real estate acquisition and for us it signalled the beginning of the end. A little googling revealed that the new owner boasts an inventory of shiny new and very expensive freshly renovated properties. Nice if you can afford them, but none of us can. We simply can’t. We now live in a nameless building that’s slated for renoviction (or as they so nicely put it “eviction due to renovation”) because that’s what they do, and they’re proud of it.

This all happened in a matter of months. On June 3, 2017, a gloomy Saturday, I got a notice through my mail slot informing me that the new owners were just waiting on the city permits that will grant them the power to evict me from my home. They’ve already done just that to my neighbours upstairs. The other shoe has definitely dropped.

Talk about picking on the little guy. All of us are vulnerable tenants whose rights are being trampled upon. We’ve all been displaced with literally nowhere to go in the city we call home. Bureaucrats ushered this through with lightning fast speed, apparently rubber stamping this project through with little to no consideration for what it will do to the local community much less all of the individuals affected. This does not serve the greater good. 

My body vibrates with an unfettered rage. It’s wrong on so many levels. Where are the checks and balances? What happened to decency and humanity? We’ve all been scrambling to make some arrangements. There is a very real probability some of us will find themselves couch-surfing, homeless, until something comes along, and probably not in our community. We’re hoping to share information so that we can all help one another through this. That’s the way proper society works.

I’m sure more developers are eyeing up the plentiful stock of other affordable New Westminster buildings that just could use superficial sprucing up. These companies are not asking tenants to leave for a few months so we can come back at the same affordable rents. They could do renos around us, for us, but they don’t want low income tenants. They want tenants who will gladly pay the seemingly cheap “market” rents of New Westminster. Rents that have been pushed up into the stratospheric thanks to a real estate market allowed to spiral out of control. There is absolutely no calculation of the human cost nor thought given to the fact that low income tenants are being displaced so companies may profit in this way. 

How is it that in a city where change occurs at a much slower and considered pace that a solid building of 54 and truly affordable suites of rental stock are allowed to become unaffordable for the average resident of New West? 

With other developments it would appear the intent has to be clearly indicated to the community but for some reason this protocol is ignored in the case of a renoviction. It’s the dirty little secret that no one discovers until it can’t be hidden any longer; almost as if the aim of it is to catch the residents off guard. It smacks of an almost punitive nature. This practice was clearly on the City’s radar. After all this is a prescient and very real threat to the vulnerable in our city. It was only in 2016 a resolution was made to specifically address this issue and yet here it is, happening just like that. And back here at 322 it didn’t take long from the time of the sale for the first eviction notices to be issued. ABC,123 and easy peazy just like that it was done. 

When necessity is the mother of…

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I am being pushed into activism. I’m OK with it, but I confess it’s never been a “me” thing. I have always thought the little guy needed more of a voice but I only used to watch in chagrin when yet again as Goliath put the screws to David. There seemed to be a torpor within our government and a social collective that seemed to stand idly by time and time again. There’d be that “treehugger” that would literally stick neck and limb out to voice what no one else would. Government would use their political might to shut that voice up but didn’t seem to do anything to protect the rights of those and that. 

It seems it all comes to the bottom line. Whatever happened to building a citizenry and society that included all of those and treated all of those equally? We’re not even going to break it down into particular issues. We all know what they are. Rights are being clawed away or denied outright still and always and nothing ever gets done. Do it the right and polite way and no one even notices. Make a stink and people dismiss you. So dear citizenry, how do you suggest a person proceeds. There is so much riding on everything, our heads our swivelling trying to keep up, but that’s because it was allowed to devolve into a society where the almighty buck really does rule the day.

I can’t sit idly by anymore. I am going to pick up the mantle and run as fast as I can with what I have. It may not be much. I’m a follower not a leader. I don’t even know how activism is done. Is that ridiculous or what? I’ve grown a bit of a voice lately. Sure, it’s mostly beaking off on #twitter or a strongly worded email trying to get a product replaced but so what, that’s a start right? Call me a shit disturber, call me a harpy, call me what you will. I am not going away. 

Emptiness

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He always had something interesting to say, my neighbor. When I say interesting I mean it was something that never would have occured to me, but I found interesting nevertheless.  I don’t knew how the thread some of these conversations began and truly they were more like monologues that verged on haranguing, but I never cut him off. I would always stay on for the ride on every occasion though usually I was late leaving to get somewhere or arriving laden with groceries or worse dizzy having just made it in the door after a torturous journey to get home. And I never knew his name. We didn’t do that hey nice to meet ya neighbour thing. It could have been Ralph or it could have been William and I didn’t ask out of some overwrought sense of politesse. It seemed we’d hardly known each other for too long to begin making introductions to one another. 

My neighbour (let’s call him Mr. 102) lived below me on the ground floor. He never opened his curtains for the morning sun, nor did he open the sliding door for air and didn’t place even a lone chair on his patio. He had told me it would be an invitation to the raccoons and anyway the soil from the garden splashed up on his cement slab every time it rained. It created a mess and wasn’t all that inviting. There was no reason to acknowledge it existed much less make it homey. Still every time I arrived back home I would look to his suite in the hopes of seeing him out reading a book, or perhaps standing at the patio door looking out, as I often do at mine.

The last time I saw him i was aghast, it took my breath away. He was a mere shell of a person hardly resembling the hale man he had once been. It seemed as if he had shrunk in size perhaps because his body was stooped into itself. He took carefully minced steps with his eyes cast to the ground. On the rare occasion I passed him I found that if I tried to engage him he had nothing to say, and didn’t seem to want a conversation of any kind; no more long chats about any myriad of topic. My first reflex was an offer to help to him, so I did. I knew he seemed a proud man so I wasn’t surprised when he politely declined anything and he demurred even a mere dinner invitation. I saw him less and less until I didn’t see him at all.

Today the curtains were pulled fully back to reveal an emptiness that was once his home. Thirty-one years he lived in that small space. For some reason I first noted the awful shade of carpet. And then it hit me. I just knew but I had to confirm my suspicion. I walked down to my manager’s suite and knocked on the door. I felt it an awful imposition but I asked anyway and she answered affirming what I already knew. I won’t be seeing that neighbour ever again. He had just passed away. I’m almost sure I know when. An ambulance had quietly arrived and left the building 2 days ago. I went back to mine and cried for a man I scarcely knew.

02.15.17 Memory is imagination 

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I remember that night, or at least parts of it. A friend posted a photo on Facebook today and I remember that evening. It made me smile. I remember a lot of that time and those memories sustain me. My memory now is not nearly so reliable. There’s four of us in the photo. My friend Jay and I are pointing at the camera with the wide smiles. You can see the unbridled joy in our faces the other two not so much. Perhaps they were reluctant to go. Probably. It was very late, going on 3am. I probably chose to ignore their reluctance being that one of them was my boyfriend of the time. Even though there was a lot of wine involved a part of my brain recalls it as if it were–well not yesterday–but part of my very recent future. I can tell you I’ve not had a night like this in recent history. That evening was a bit of a blur but when I saw that picture it was as if I was transported back to that time. A good deal of some of my best social memories were forged in my 5 years in Toronto. I know they can’t be replicated and I know that much has changed. People have moved away and moved on but still I am wistful for those times. I tend to the sentimental. I can’t help myself.

We arrived at the party very late; in the wee hours after having attended a couple other parties. As people are wont to say, we were well lubricated. The cab arrived to the address and we spilled out, laughing and carrying on fresh with memories of the gatherings we had just left. It had been a fantastic evening. It could have ended there but none of us were ready for bed just yet. We had left the previous party before we intended so we could get to this address, thinking that party might end before we got there. We were on a mission.  It was destination number 4. Regular social butterflies we were.  The address had been given to us verbally so we questioned that we had arrived at the right place; none of us were entirely sure especially since the home the cab pulled up to was shrouded in darkness.  Undeterred we strode up to the door and rang a bell hoping it was the right one. It was. The party was in the upper rear of the house explaining the why of the darkness. We joined it in apparent full swing. The small loft was packed with people and I confess the names of any of them I was introduced to didn’t stick including the vague bit of memory of the host. I was in a little bit of heaven when I saw there was a karaoke machine, but I couldn’t get my hands on the bloody thing. After a some serious merrymaking and laughs, the two less than enthusiastic compadres called it a night so we piled back into a cab to ferry us home. I’m sure I fell into bed and asleep in moments. Yes, those were the days.

02.14.17 second step

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IMG_0385I recently rearranged my tiny apartment to satisfy my need for change and to make it possible to place my table by the window. Some would say that it makes the narrow lane of my designated living room seem narrower, but I ignore them. I like it. In the morning I drink my coffee and gaze out at the view my 2nd floor bach affords. I do a lot of daydreaming looking out this window. There’s not much happening on my street, but it’s busier than most. Cars scrape over the speed calming lump, ignoring the heed to slow down, and the dastardly part of me gets a smile out of that. Who knows why, perhaps because I am a person who believes in following the rules, so it doesn’t make for a lot of trailblazing. The lessons of my childhood were beaten into me so well that they are ingrained into my cafe au lait skin. My horizons have become not so wide.

Life is slow here. I buck against it, hoping one day I’ll wake up and this city will be like others I’ve lived. I like a healthy amount of hustle and bustle. It’s the energy that energy I crave. It feeds me. I need it. I live a mostly solitary life. Yes, it is mostly of my own doing and I’ve mostly receded into it.  It’s just me and my wee cat, my mostly toothless wonder. Her only loud demands are that I feed her twice a day and that she occupy my lap all day.

I suppose some of my reluctance stems from the limitations of my health. It’s anomalies and vagaries, there’s a why that sometimes my life doesn’t extend much further than the boundaries of my comfortable blue sofa or my memory foam bed.

I know the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, but I’ve become almost paralytic most of the time, with friends, families and my own life alike, so I often don’t even hazard that one step. I’ve become so accustomed to living an interior life, the life “out there” has moved further away and has become unfamiliar. I’ve moved further away. But when I am in my bathroom the messages coming at me are positive and affirming. And I sigh.

I write this while still in my pyjamas, hair standing up on my head (yes, Bijou is on my lap); waiting for the other shoe to drop. Safe. Inside. Waiting out the 2nd beast that inhabits my body. It’s how I begin most every day, save for the writing bit. Wait and see. Always wait and see….

 

About that inside my head thing…

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About that inside my head thing…

I read a lot of what others write and I voice small comments here and there; dispensing little crumbs and bits of opinion and rumination here and there, but I don’t give voice or life to the words of my own. I see lives being lived and expanding into new horizons and I feel mine becoming smaller, the borders of it closing in on me. I’m beginning to feel suffocated.

This is not what I imagined my life to be but I somehow feel helpless to do anything about it; I’ve been rendered immobile. Still I find myself unable to move from the sidelines and onto the playing field. Every new week I make small new resolutions to myself…Eat better, exercise more, get up earlier, leave the house but I am so busy getting in my own way stubbornly, like a reflex, I turn away or push back against the very thing I want to run toward. I’ve been working on how not to behave this way but instead of pushing through I feel as if I am receding further into a small prison of my own making. 

I’m not going to wax much anymore about this, for now. I’m putting it out there, for myself, to remind myself not to double back and backpedal but to slowly inch forward. Keep pushing. Put the words down, put it down there and dare to dream out loud.

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