Rookie NDP MLA Spencer Herbert Hammers Liberals on Housing

Spencer Herbert, newly elected NDP MLA, discussed the Seafield in his debut speech in the Provincial legislature, further adding emphasis to the grave issues West End residents face due to loopholes in the Residential Tenancy Act.

By Charlie Smith
The Georgia Straight

Veteran Liberal MLAs must have wondered, “Who is the hell is this kid? And where the hell did the NDP find such a polished debater?”

The “kid”, 27-year-old newly minted NDP MLA Spencer Herbert, gave the Liberals a verbal spanking–with plenty of oratorical flourish–in his debut speech in the legislature today.

Most of the time, he focused on the Campbell government’s handling of housing issues in downtown Vancouver.

“I enter this House in a time when our economy is deeply troubled,” Herbert began today, according to the draft transcript on the legislature Web site. “I enter this House when our climate and environment are under threat. I enter this House when poverty in our community and the child poverty rate continues to be at the all-time high across Canada, and I enter this place when many in our communities do not believe in this House’s power to do good anymore. And I’ve got to say that I don’t blame them sometimes.”

He went on to say that “this House has failed our province and has failed our children in many respects”.

“Many of our members speak of the future and of looking out for their grandchildren’s future,” he said in a clear reference to Premier Gordon Campbell’s favourite rhetorical trick. “For me, I speak of looking out for my generation and my future generation’s future and the future we will face.”

Herbert noted that we are facing some of the greatest challenges ever. “My community of Vancouver-Burrard is a place where neighbours look out for one another,” he said, according to the draft transcript. “Many don’t have a lot, but they have a community. When you’re paying $1,300 for a 500-square-foot apartment, you get to know your neighbours, your parks and your community centres like the West End and Roundhouse community centres.”

Later, he said that for many British Columbians, their homes are the only place of security as savings vanish and the economic picture grows bleak. “But just when people need their homes the most, many in my community and yours are facing the loss of their homes or are afraid that they will be next,” Herbert said, according to the draft transcript. “I speak of the residents of the Seafield in the West End, who are expecting eviction notices any day now so that the landlord can slice up the historic building into small pieces and rent it out for massive amounts of money — rents that none of the current residents can afford, and they’re already paying very high rents.”

He told MLAs about 83-year-old West End resident Roland McFalland his 91-year-old sister Mary who live in the building. “They don’t know where they will turn to when they’re forced out,” Herbert said. “They’ve been great tenants, have offered to work with the landlord to make any necessary renovations occur, but it’s not enough. More money and massively increasing the rent seem to be all that matter.”

He described how the Renters at Risk group has stood up for tenants, but the government has ignored these concerns. “I think of Laurie, who is 85 and who didn’t want her last name used for fear of reprisal,” Herbert said, according to the draft transcript. “She recently faced the prospect of a rent increase of 30 percent — 30 percent. Why? She’d always paid her rent, paid her taxes, paid the yearly rent increases, followed the rules. Why is this happening?”

Then he got to the guts of the matter, claiming that the Residential Tenancy Act is not balanced.

“It’s happening because when this act was drafted, concerns of renters were ignored,” Herbert said. “These changes have thrown our system out of balance and allowed many to be thrown out of their homes. I’ve spoken to people whose home is now Stanley Park — the forests of Stanley Park. They were living on disability in a rental building and were forced out due to the changes brought in. They couldn’t afford to move and couldn’t afford anywhere else. So now they’re sleeping outside in the cold, terrified.”

He pointed out that in the last seven and a half years, the number of homeless people in Vancouver has risen by almost 400 percent. “My community is tired of stepping over homeless people, and the homeless people in my community are tired of being stepped over,” Herbert said, according to the draft transcript. “They need supportive housing now so that they can get off the streets and into programs that help them with mental illness, help them with substance abuse and drug addiction problems, help them get back to living productive lives

“I know this House is often one of chest-beating and desk-thumping, a place where the theatre of partisan politics is played out. I appeal to the members opposite, on behalf of my constituents, to take action now for renters and those living on the street. This is a house where our province’s business is supposed to get done, a house we British Columbians and fellow British Columbians look to, to support those most vulnerable, to look out for their interests, a house full of members who have secure homes to go to. I appeal to all to remember those whose homes are not secure and those without homes. We have the power to make positive change for and with our communities. Let us use that power now to keep people in their homes and to house those without them.”

All things considered, it was an auspicious beginning for the new NDP MLA for Vancouver-Burrard.

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