Nanaimo This Week: Does Nanaimo have a tenants’ rights group?

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When researching housing issues in Nanaimo, I noticed that unlike a lot of other cities, there doesn’t seem to be many (or any?) grassroots groups advocating for local tenants’ rights related to illegal renovictions and other concerns. I decided to dig into it a bit, and last week I briefly spoke with Neil Vokey from the Vancouver Tenant’s Union (VTU), who said that if people want to organize as renters and tenants, there are many paths that can take.

“There’s lots of different models for tenant organizing, there’s neighbourhood organizing, there’s individual rental building associations,” he says. “In Toronto, their city-wide organization is a federation of tenant building associations, so they’re just a network of different buildings that are organized.”

Though the VTU does get involved in individual disputes like the renoviction controversy in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, Vokey says the VTU is a citywide union, which means they advocate not just on specific disputes but more broadly for changes to legislation on a provincial and federal level. I asked Neil what advice he would have for people wanting to start a tenants’ union in Nanaimo.

“Start small. If you live in a building, talk to your neighbours. There’s a lot of resources and guides online for how to start up a building association and that acts not only as a community but a network. That way, when crisis hits, that’s kind of the hardest part already done, which is you know how to reach out to your neighbour and know how to connect with them,” he says. 

“From there you can form federations of multiple buildings or a neighbourhood and have neighbourhood-based meetings. The good thing about that too is that it keeps it accessible to everyone to participate at different levels. If you’re part of an organization in a building, you don’t have to go far for a meeting.”

Stay tuned for more coverage related to the local rent crisis, including challenges facing Nanaimo landlords.

Retiring into uncertainty

John, a low-income senior in Nanaimo, is shown standing in front of his RV from the chest down.
Seniors on fixed incomes like James have been forced out of Nanaimo’s rental market due to rising costs. Photo by Rae-Anne Guenther

This week we are excited to present “Retiring into uncertainty”, another in-depth feature in our Making Rent series from Rae Anne Guenther, about how the rental crisis is affecting seniors in Nanaimo. We’re happy to report that James, who is featured in the story, is now safely housed. Here’s an excerpt: (Trigger Warning: This story and excerpt contains discussions of suicide)

In my first interview with James he was obviously distressed from his situation. He commented about how he’s considered ending his life because he was so fed up with the systems in place. 

Hollins says that they are seeing an increase in distressed seniors, including those like James who have contemplated suicide. In B.C., the age group with the largest percentage of deaths by suicide between 2008 and 2018 were people between the ages of 50 and 59. On Vancouver Island and across Canada, men account for the vast majority of suicides. “For a lot of people, that is their retirement plan, unfortunately,” says Hollins.

Brooker says the topic of suicide is commonly brought up during her calls with seniors. “Seniors have been very open of how they feel that they only have so much economic value. Those without good pensions in reliable industries feel like they don’t matter and feel guilty they are not contributing to the economy. And these are people who have worked hard their whole life.”

James retired from truck driving and spent most of his life as a member of the working, middle class. With no significant savings, large assets to cash in or family support, he relies on government social assistance to help with living expenses.

Read the rest of the story here.

In other news

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Nanaimo city councillor stands in front of a forested background for a video about Nanaimo's community plan 2020.
Councillor Ben Geselbracht brought forward a motion to formally oppose logging of at-risk old-growth forest. Photo from the City of Nanaimo

👉 On Monday, Nanaimo’s city council supported a motion calling on the provincial government to immediately defer logging in old growth forests. The motion was brought forward by councillor Ben Geselbracht and passed in a 5-4 split vote.

Some highlights from the meeting:

“I’m bringing this resolution forward because I feel compelled to do what we can as a city to advocate to protect old growth forests at high risk of near-term irreversible biodiversity loss. […] Globally, we’ve crossed critical ecological limits in terms of biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions and conversion of forest lands — critical limits that we are exceeding here in B.C. and part of our current forest practices,” said Geselbracht. “We have no choice but to develop an economy that operates inside the ecological limits of the planet. We’re exceeding them here in B.C. as outlined in the old growth strategic review. A problem that we’ve been well aware of for over 30 years. Delaying meaningful actions to protect what is left and build a sustainable industry threatens sustainable long term forestry jobs in Nanaimo and the entire province and simply delays the inevitable.” 

Geselbracht was supported by councillors Erin Hemmens, Don Bonner, Tyler Brown, and Zeni Maartman, who said she felt it was possible to both support the logging industry and protect old growth, and thought the issue needed to be viewed through the lens of climate change mitigation. 

“This really is out of our lane. This is not our knitting. I was around during the time of the Harcourt government when the Vancouver Island land use plan was brought into being. Incredible protests, the protests at Clayoquot, all the discussions with First Nations, every interested group,” said Mayor Leonard Krog. “I have no interest in going back to fight a battle that was dealt with over a quarter century ago… we are a municipal city council, we have things to deal with that are in our lane, that are in our bailiwick, that are in our jurisdiction.”

Others who were opposed to the motion were councillors Ian Thorpe, Jim Turley and Sheryl Armstrong.

👉A local company engaged in psychedelics research plans to expand their south Nanaimo facility by building a 7,500-foot addition to increase their research and development of new products, reports the Nanaimo News Bulletin. The company, Numinus Wellness Inc., has a Health Canada license to cultivate magic mushrooms and produce a wide variety of psychedelic compounds, including psilocybin mushroom extracts, ketamine, LSD, DMT and mescaline.

👉The Nanaimo RCMP in partnership with the City of Nanaimo and Vancouver Island University criminology students will soon begin community safety audits in six Nanaimo neighbourhoods, including the Old City Quarter and South End, to hear local concerns about crime and safety. The hope is that by engaging with neighbours, police can better understand the problem and be more proactive with measures to prevent crime.

Community shout-out

👉 THANK YOU to everyone that contributed to our very first monthly members campaign! We didn’t quite hit our goal, but are overwhelmed with the response and feedback from the many of you—far more than we can list here—who pitched in to make this community-powered journalism possible. Thank you for being a part of this. If you’d still like to become a monthly member, it’s not too late. Join us today.

👉 In light of new COVID-19 restrictions, members of the Facebook group Eat Local Nanaimo have contributed to a giant thread of local restaurants providing take-out, delivery or patio service. Shout-outs (including promotions) include Flavours of India, Gabriel’s Cafe, Sealand Pho, Camas Foods, Ironworks Café & Crêperie and many more. 

Two takeout containers filled with sushi rolls sit side by side.
A member of the Eat Local Nanaimo group posted this photo of selections from Nana Sushi’s take-out menu. Photo from Facebook

What’s going on?

  • Ongoing: Artwork from students in the Visual Arts Program at Vancouver Island University are now up to view through an online exhibit. The selections from painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and ceramics classes present a spectrum of technique, approach and point of view.

  • Saturday, April 10: Mountain bike skills clinic for intermediate level women (including womxn) mountain bikers. Ride and learn. Develop your technique with a certified Level 2 instructor from the Professional Mountain Bikers Instructors Association.

  • Wednesday, April 14: Online reading by Canadian storyteller Ivan Coyote, who was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. In 2019, Ivan marked 25 years on the road as an international touring storyteller and musician, and released their 12th book, Rebent Sinner. Ivan’s stories grapple with the complex and intensely personal topics of gender identity, family, class and queer liberation. Event is free but registration is required.

  • Saturday, April 17: Spend a morning with the Nanaimo Area Land Trust exploring the freshwater invertebrate diversity of a local marsh. Family-friendly activities include pond dipping with nets and learning to identify different invertebrates and using magnifying glasses and microscopes. Sign up in advance and event is at Sywash Ridge Road in Lantzville, beside the marsh.

  • Friday, April 23: Quin & Friends online concert with local musicians Quin With One N, Nick Mintenko and Elise Boulanger. Musician Q & A after the event. Tickets are by donation and registration is required.

Vote now

We’re thinking about introducing a “photo of the week” contest to this newsletter. If you like the idea, what kind of photos would you like to see? Join The Discourse Nanaimo Facebook group to have your say. 


Hey Julie,

“I read your article regarding rent and the new rules the government is imposing, i.e. [rental rates] tied to inflation etc. After reading it I closed my browser and opened another to an article which showed the outrageous increase in gas prices.

Often government intervention in one place and not another makes for unfair results (and they cannot “interfere” in all things). There are many examples in wildlife, business, life and other circumstances where intervention creates an unbalanced result.

Not sure the answer here but there are many sides to every story. I actually get a little dizzy trying to work through the whole issue.

Not an easy solution but your article made me think about it.”
—Randy Forbes

As always, I appreciate your feedback. Drop me a note, anytime. And thanks again for making this work possible. [end]

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