Vancouver Sun: Surrey housing advocates aim to put a bug in council's ear

Posted June 2, 2016

Since Anna Kowalewski moved into her Surrey apartment, she has been besieged by bugs.
Ravenous bedbugs left scars on her arms and forced her to throw out all of her furniture, and most recently she and her roommate dealt with an intrusion of cockroaches.
“We’ve had a problem with bug infestations like you wouldn’t believe,” said Kowalewski, one of approximately 25 people who gathered outside Surrey city hall Wednesday to rally for safe, affordable housing.
Surrey members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Canada organized the event.
Surrey ACORN members are calling on the city to improve access to affordable housing by creating a mandatory inclusionary zoning clause that would require developers to set aside 30 per cent of all new residential units built in the city as subsidized or affordable housing.
“As of right now, Surrey is facing gentrification,” said Tabitha Naismith, Newton chair of ACORN in Surrey. “What I’m seeing and what a lot of the members are seeing is a lot of the affordable places are being torn down, particularly around Whalley and city hall.”
Deborah Marsh, who lives in a mobile home park near 96th Avenue and King George Boulevard that is the subject of a development application, said there are few vacancies in Surrey and very little affordable housing. She wonders what will happen when her home is redeveloped.
“There are a lot of people who just can’t afford to live anywhere else,” Marsh said. “Personally, I don’t know where I’m going to go from here and I’m terrified.”
The organization is also asking the city to update its Rental Premises Standards of Maintenance bylaw to deal with issues around structural damage, including vermin, mould and mildew. The bylaw, which came into force in 2012, addresses issues related to the provision of water, heat, light, basic utilities and elevators.
“With proposed bylaw amendments, it would give tenants another route to solve their problems if their landlords aren’t being responsible,” said Kowalewski.
In addition to bylaw changes, Naismith said, ACORN would like to see Surrey introduce a database to track landlords who violate city bylaws and the Residential Tenancy Act, similar to Vancouver’s rental standards database.
Surrey Coun. Vera LeFranc, who is attending the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference in Winnipeg, said she encourages ACORN’s activism.
“I really want to say that I appreciate ACORN very much,” LeFranc said. “I think what they do is very valuable — in fact, it’s essential to democracy.” 
LeFranc said ACORN is one of the organizations the city will work with as it develops an affordable housing strategy. She said that inclusionary zoning may be considered, but there are other tools that would work better to increase affordable housing in Surrey.
LeFranc said the changes being sought for the Standards of Maintenance Bylaw are outside the city’s purview, and she isn’t familiar with the database proposal.
“I appreciate the need for affordable housing is very important,” LeFranc said. “I think that housing is top of mind for municipalities across the region. It’s not something that we’re not paying attention to.”
Article by Jennifer Saltman for the Vancouver Sun