Call to Action: Support Rent Control in Vancouver’s SRO Hotels - time sensitive

Democratic Socialists of Vancouver

In December 2019, Vancouver City Council passed a unanimous motion to support tying rent control to units in Vancouver’s lowest income rental stock, Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels. Now we need to make sure they do that. SROs, which are 100 sq-ft rooms without kitchen or washroom facilities, are Vancouver’s housing of last resort, and rising rents there are pushing Vancouverites into homelessness. Because rents are not tied to units, when a tenant moves out, landlords are able to raise rents to double or even triple what they were 5 years ago. These rising rents in the least costly rental stock are fuelling the crisis of homelessness in our city.

This Wednesday, Oct 7th at 9:30AM, city staff will give an update on SROs to council. After years of grassroots pressure, we are glad to see the city staff’s report recommends that the City work out a mechanism to tie rent control to units in SRO Hotels and stop waiting around for the Province. This is a huge step forward. 

We want to support these recommendations and ask the council to approve them, but with some changes. (See under “Preparing to speak at council” for details). You can see the staff’s full report here

Here’s what you can do: 

  1. Sign up to Speak to Council via the phone. Deadline to speak is 8:30am on Oct 7th. Speaking will likely happen on the same day, unless postponed (more details below). 

  2. To prepare your speech: 

    1. Check out our proposed talking points for speaking to the council. 

    2. Check out SRO Collaborative’s backgrounder on the rising of rents in SRO hotels and municipal rent control as a solution.

    3. Check out other resources and letters from different organizations to the council in support of this campaign, including VTU’s own letter.

  3. Email City Council your thoughts (template below but feel free to add/edit based on the talking points)

  4. Share this document by passing along the link!  

  5. Any questions about speaking to the council? Need help preparing your speech? Get in touch with us through 


Steps to Sign Up and Speak at City Hall: 


  1. Go to this link and select item “1(a) SRO Revitalization…” to sign up to speak and choose “by phone”. On the second page choose “other” to indicate you have amendments to suggest. Fill out your personal information accurately on the next page. There’s no need to enter an organization’s name.

  2. The city will send you an email with instructions on how to speak.

  3. The city will send a follow-up email indicating your place in line and provide a phone number for you to call. They suggest calling approximately 30 minutes before you think you will be up to speak. 

  4. On the day of speaking, follow @VanCityClerk on the day-of for real-time updates on where they are on the speakers list.

  5. If you sign the support pledge, an organiser will reach out and walk you through preparation for speaking!

Note: If you end up missing your turn, that’s totally okay! No one knows for sure what day or time your turn will come. It’s most important that we send a message with a big speakers list. So sign up even if you’re not sure whether you’re available on Oct 7th.


Preparing to Speak at Council:


Feeling anxious about speaking at city hall? It’s okay, lots of people are! You’ll just be one of many speakers. Here are some talking points to give you some ideas of what to say. 


You will only have 5 minutes to speak and you will be cut off at 5 minutes. If you write out your speech, 5 minutes is a little less than one page of writing.


Start by introducing yourself. Consider adding something personal to help them understand why you are motivated to speak about this issue.  


* * * 

What is in the staff report? Some good things, but it could be better.

While we want to support the staff recommendation for the City to work out a mechanism for tying rent control to SRO units using City’s powers, the report also proposes a one year timeline to design and then come back to approve this SRO rent control. This is too long and some SRO tenants will lose their homes and become homeless in the meantime! We need to ask for an amendment to reduce the timeline to a maximum of 6 months. 

The report recommends that the city and developer “may” find housing for tenants who are displaced by demolitions and closures of SROs. This is not good enough. We need to ask for an amendment that ensures tenants who are displaced because of demovictions or buildings closures are relocated into housing at a comparable price and equal or better condition.

Staff also recommend a whopping $1billion budget for a gradual transition of all privately owned SRO Hotels into social housing or housing agreements, in order to stop the loss of units to gentrified “micro-suites”. This is great news and it can’t happen soon enough! 

* * * 

In short in your comments:

Tell Council you want them to approve staff’s recommendations and want them to approve the recommendations today. But emphasize two amendments:

  1. A shorter timeline to bring SRO rent control into effect - 6 months maximum.  Why?

    • Tenants are losing their homes now and this loophole needs to be closed before more people become homeless.

    • Landlords could work hard over the 6 months to increase rents before the rules change.  

  2. If an SRO closes or is demolished, the city “MUST” find alternative accommodations at the same price, in the same area if the tenant wants, and in similar or better condition.


Add your own reason for why the City must approve the staff’s recommendations to a) tie rent controls to the unit in hotels b) raise $1 billion in order to buy two-thirds of the privately owned SRO hotels and enter into housing agreements with the other third. 


* * *


Use any of the following in support of your argument:

  • The increase in homelessness, how horrible it is to live on the street, and the government’s duty to provide housing for the most vulnerable

  • The one year delay called for by the report is too long, the turnover is so high that a great deal of damage will be done to that housing stock 

  • The average rate of increase in rent of ten percent in buildings that change hands means we will lose a great deal of housing in the delay to implement, calling for a moratorium on sale of private buildings. 

    • We lose 4-5 hotels a year, and each year we delay we lose critical housing stock

  • Many of the SRO tenants are indigenous and this is part of reconciliation

  • Of the 3,700-5,000 low-income SRO tenants living in privately owned rooms, many are Indigenous tenants, many are old age pensioners or living on welfare/disability, or working people who live alone. 

  • Gentrification is hurting the most vulnerable populations among us, and reconciliation demands we act to protect low-income renters.

  • As gentrification accelerates and rent in SROs quickly approaches 100% of the welfare rate, anyone who relies on that social assistance for rent will soon have insufficient funds to pay for even these most basic of places to live.

  • These units are the end of the line before homelessness. Allowing their gentrification will amplify the homelessness crisis.

  • Without rent control, landlords have an incentive to have high tenant turnover so they can increase rent between tenancies. This leads to a high number of evictions, particularly for low-income and low-rent paying tenants.

  • To increase tenant turnover and make more profits, landlords neglect repairs or harass tenants until their living conditions are unbearable. They also take advantage of tenants asking for repairs by using this as a justification for a renoviction. 

  • We can cut down on rent control enforcement costs by utilizing Downtown Eastside tenant support organizations such as the SRO Collaborative, instead of city staff, to monitor for and report violations.

  • We can use funds currently being used up by the Vancouver Police Department to pay for rent control enforcement and implementation. 

  • This is one part of a broader housing strategy which you are also failing at. Rent control is not the only solution we’re fighting for, massive public investment in social and low-income housing to flood the market is another key solution. Also raise the welfare rates.

    • We do not expect this single policy will solve these problems. All levels of government need to act to solve the homelessness and housing crisis, including this one.

  • These units are the end of the line before homelessness. Allowing their gentrification will amplify the homelessness crisis.

  • They’ll say: this will create a disincentive to build new purpose-built rental. We say: it creates an incentive to build new units that can be rented at the market rate, because they’ll be the only units at that rate. 

  • The housing bubble has revalued these buildings pushing out low-income and working class people. As rent in SROs quickly approaches 100% of the welfare rate, anyone who relies on that social assistance for rent will soon have insufficient funds to pay for even these most basic of places to live. 

    • Someone is profiting off the housing bubble, and renters across the city and in SROs are suffering and becoming poorer because of this housing bubble. Real rent control and vacancy control will make renters less vulnerable to this kind of economic bubble.


Email Template: 








Dear Mayor Stewart and Vancouver City Council, 


Thank you for your unanimously approved motion on December 10, 2019, for City Council to 1) ask the province for vacancy control in the Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units and 2) investigate ways that the city can control rents if the province fails to take action, in order to slow the rapid loss of affordable housing in this stock and protect vulnerable Vancouver residents. 


While acknowledging the province’s responsibility to protect SROs, I strongly urge the Mayor and Council to take matters into their own hands, as voted to do in December, by immediately legislating rents tied to the unit and not the tenant in all Single Room Occupancy hotels. I understand that the City has the jurisdictional power through the Business License bylaw to impose penalties on landlords who raise rents between tenancies. For landlords that are found in violation, I urge the council to impose hefty fines. Further, should the fines go unpaid, the city should put unpaid fines on the landlords’ tax rolls and eventually move to expropriate the landlord’s property should the rents continue to not be lowered nor the fines paid. 


Since Feb 2019, the City of New Westminster has been successfully using this method to significantly slow the loss of affordable rental units in that municipality. The BC Court of Appeal recently upheld the municipality’s right to control rents using the Business License bylaw. I urge the City of Vancouver to muster the political will to follow this successful model. 


Moreover, I recommend the city seek the help of Downtown Eastside tenant support organizations such as the SRO Collaborative, rather than relying on city staff to monitor for and report violations. This can also alleviate concerns around costs of implementation.


Failing to take strong and swift action will result in a rapid increase in homelessness. The rents in these SROs are rapidly climbing. The SRO landlords have no restrictions on how much they can raise rents once tenants leave or are evicted. As a result, low income tenants can no longer afford to rent them at the new rental prices. For example, at the Arlington Hotel, rents have increased $375/month to $625/month between tenants. At the Vogue Hotel, rents are increasing from $500/month to $750/month. At the Keefer Cabins, from $375/month to $1,100/month; that is an almost threefold increase in rent. For the “20,000 households citywide earning under $30,000 (that) are spending over 50 per cent of their income on housing” (SRO Revitalization action plan page 4), these margins may mean the difference between being housed and being homeless. Dozens of tent city encampments are on the horizon if nothing is done to fix this problem, fast.


The top issue concerning Vancouverites according to the city's recent survey is homelessness and housing affordability. No doubt, this will be the number one issue that will determine the legacy of this council. Implementing rent control in the SROs to prevent more homelessness and stop the loss of this last resort stock of housing is a popular, cheap and effective action that demonstrates your commitment to improving housing conditions for all Vancouverites. Please do the right thing, now.






Other Sources

  • Read Councilor Jean Swanson’s articles in the Vancouver Sun and Star and an article from the Georgia Straight about how rent control could end the rental nightmare here, here and here.

  • Read the Vancouver District Labour Council’s call for vacancy control in SROs

  • Read the Vancouver Tenants Union letter to council

  • Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) letter to council

  • News article: “Low income hotels in Vancouver see 16% rent hike”

Key Findings of the Report to Council

  • In 1993 there were 1770 SRO units renting for 375$ or less 

    • Today there are 77

    • 375$ is the amount of welfare assistance expected to be sent on shelter

  • The report recommends implementing vacancy control

  • When buildings are sold, the average rent increase is 10% 

    • Rent is going up 4% across all SROs 

  • Amending the SRO bylaw to bring tenant protections in line with the TRPP

  • Increasing the conversion fee from 125 000$ to 230 000$

    • This is the fee to remove a unit from falling under the SRA bylaw

    • This amount represents the approximate cost to replace that unit with a unit of social housing.