Lately I have felt compelled to solve larger problems with my volunteer efforts.
It is the reason I made the hard decision to step away from my post at CreativeMornings/Vancouver. The sense of community at #CMVan was amazing but it was being eroded by greater forces.
Looking around my community, industry and city, I saw a lot of hardship and anxiety. Some of the most basic requirements were not being met within our hierarchy of needs.
The safety of our homes, health, families and communities are under threat today by a housing crisis, that has been either ignored by those too overwhelmed to cope, or cheered on by those who profit by it.
This is simply unacceptable.
To educate myself and advocate for those around me, I created the following video story on civic engagement. And below is my address to Vancouver City Council, in support of bold movement of their recent housing strategy.
Good morning Council Members and thank you for hearing me today.
My name is Trevor Jansen and I am an entrepreneur as a creative professional. I tell visual stories and consult on brand strategy with multi-million and billion dollar companies here in Vancouver. I was a volunteer for five and a half years with Creative Mornings, the popular monthly speaker series. I have performed in 2 of Vancouver’s International Burlesque Festivals. And my company is a silver sponsor for the BC chapter of the American Marketing Association.
I am active in Vancouver’s communities and industries and I have realized how much both are under threat because of the housing crisis that has run unchecked for too long. I have stepped forward today because I have a stake in how our city grows and develops.
My communities and industry have already seen an exodus of talent – people tell me they are making a purely financial decision to leave the city. They are beleaguered by trying to pay their rent. They can no longer define success by “not drowning”. Or something has changed in their lives, like having children and they see no future here for themselves nor their children.
The idea that if you can’t afford to live here, then you should just move is not only callus, but also incredibly short-sighted. When these people move away, they are not coming back. And with them they take all their contributions to our social fabric.
For example, my friends Syx and Taryn Langmann. He was a photography school instructor, entrepreneur and artist. She was a nursing administrator at Saint Paul’s. They both were strong proponents of volunteerism here in Vancouver and led by example. When Taryn became pregnant, they tried to work it out in a small basement apartment. When they decided to have another child, they didn’t see a way forward in Vancouver both as parents and community leaders. They left and we are all lesser for it.
From a business perspective, that photography school no longer exists. From a community perspective, the events they spearheaded are gone. This is just one example of the hollowing out of our city, which is already underway.
The story of the Langmann family is eerily similar to my own in so far as I am just one life-change from being priced out of my shabby apartment. In fact, that shabby apartment is the only reason I am able to remain in Vancouver.
I moved into a creaky, old building 11 years ago. The rent was reasonable because the floorboards were splintering, the radiator in the living room didn’t work and the landlords were generally absent. In the winters, when a cold wind blows I can feel the heat being ripped from the building. In the summer, every door is flung open in hopes of catching a breeze. Because of skyrocketing rents and strong rent protection laws, I dare not move out of this old building. In a very real way, I am stuck there. Affordable housing was the only reason I was able to build my business and it continues to be.
Just this year our absent landlords got back from whatever vacation they were on this time and had caught the notion that this dilapidating building should fetch them current market rental rates. They confidently announced that everyone in the building would get evicted within a year. There was to be a rolling edit starting with some of the oldest tenants in the building. They seemed quite proud of this idea. When the young family on the first floor expressed concern, the landlords assured them they would be evicted last. How generous.
It turns out they had no real plans for renovations. Just a coat of paint and a 150% rent increase. Thankfully their first 2 renoviction attempts were shut down in arbitration. But now they have resorted to being as unpleasant as possible. There is a lot everyone in the building will put up with before ever contacting them with a health, safety or security concern.
On the top floor is my neighbor Bill, he a confirmed bachelor is in his 70s and still serves tables at the race track. He loves to talk about documentaries and the book he is reading right now. If he were evicted, he would have nowhere to go. On the first floor is Deb, a retired animator with fiery red hair to match her personality. She volunteers for all sorts of community events and gets by on her pension. She has no idea what she would do if she had to go.
Both of them have been living in the building since the 80’s, back when Mount Pleasant wasn’t so pleasant and our building was notorious for pushers and prostitutes. They are a part of our community’s history and cultural memory. I genuinely fear for their well-being, if the landlords manage to push them out.
If I get pushed out, I will probably land on my feet. But it won’t be in Vancouver. It is just not viable here if THIS council allows the housing crisis to continue on its current trajectory.
I love this city. I have contributed to this city. I don’t want to see Vancouver hollowed out by casino capitalism or become a resort town for the ultra wealthy.
Affordable housing is infrastructure like roads and water supply. That is why I stand before you today in support of the bold Vancouver Housing Strategy and ask that you implement it with equal stride. I encourage you to reject those who wish to protect the status quo and profit by it.