Is Vancouver getting a renters’ advocate, or not?

Mayor says renters’ advocate and renter advocacy and services officer are two different positions

12th and Cambie

I was really hoping to tell you when the City of Vancouver will hire a renters’ advocate.

Instead, I’m going to complicate matters.

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That’s because after interviewing Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Green Party Coun. Pete Fry and Abi Bond of the city’s housing department--and conducting an email exchange with a city communications person--I’ve learned the city could be looking to hire two people to cater to renters’ needs.

Huh?

That was my reaction, too.

Anyway, many city hall watchers will recall that hiring a renters’ advocate was one of Stewart’s promises during his mayoral campaign. In fact, he promised to hire a renters’ advocate within his first 100 days in office.

For those counting, that brings us to sometime in February, assuming the mayor considers Saturdays and Sundays in his calculation of 100 days. If not, then a renters’ advocate should be in place by St. Patrick’s Day in March.

But here’s where it gets complicated…

The city posted a job in July for a “renter advocacy and services officer.” That was four months before Stewart got elected. As the posting said, the main purpose and function of the position would be to “focus on coordinating city efforts to directly meet renter needs and maximizing external partnerships with existing renter serving organizations and advocacy groups.”

That kind of sounds like a renters’ advocate, no?

Apparently not, according to the mayor, who told me he’s really looking for a lawyer who can untangle questions a renter may have about a legal predicament related to their housing, or lack of housing.

That’s why, he said, he added an amendment to Fry’s motion a couple weeks back about the need for a renters’ office in a city where more than 50 per cent of residents rent. That amendment requests that a renters’ office also have the ability to provide “direct legal advice to concerned parties.”

“Some landlords and building owners are on the up-and-up, and they’re being quite straightforward with people, and others are not,” Stewart said. “So to be able to get some actual legal advice on whether the documents are lawful, whether they’re following particular provincial and municipal guidelines is really important. And that’s what I saw this position doing, and see this position doing.”

Before I get to more about what Stewart said, I should tell you that Bond told me a renter advocacy and services officer could be hired by Christmas. She said that person will likely be working across city departments, overseeing city policy related to renters and landlords and supplementing and enhancing work of the Residential Tenancy Branch and renter organizations.

Which, again, sounds like the work of renters’ advocate, no?

I told Stewart I didn’t want to confuse readers (which, I’m sure, I already have) in providing an update on when the city will hire a renters’ advocate. He assured me the renters’ advocate and renter advocacy and services officer are two different positions.

“They have a different set of skills,” he said, noting the renter advocacy and services officer’s skills will be in social planning. “We need someone with legal expertise to do this.”

But while saying that, he also pointed out the city has more than 30 lawyers and perhaps one or more of them could be called on to help with the renters’ file. More certainty, he added, will come when staff reports back early in the new year on the feasibility of setting up a renters’ office and its cost.

Certainty, said more than half of the city’s residents, is a good thing.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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