On crisis and Public Service
I find myself at the crossroads of a bit of a shitstorm, and writing is cathartic for me, so here goes a big long rambling about the last week of my experience, and a bit more. Hopefully by the end you understand how these things are connected to each other – it’s a bit convoluted but I am working towards a point.
I started Creative Coworkers to provide space to folks who have difficulty accessing space – whether because they are marginalized, impoverished, underemployed or socially isolated. In the last three years, my commercial rent has gone up by almost 30%. As the rent has increased, the revenue hasn’t. The shitty thing is that if it weren’t for the increases, I would be able to sustain a meagre living doing this thing that I love.
In the past year I’ve gotten hella creative on how to make ends meet here. I took client work in a sector that I am very passionate about – coordinating a cannabis based harm reduction research project, in the face of the tragic opiate epidemic. I’m not going to go deeply into this whole thing here, so best if you read the article to understand it – or look back through my blog for a multitude of posts about what I was involved in and why. This is near to my heart, as a resident and business operator in the DTES. On top of working 40+ hours per week running my space, I worked an additional sometimes 40 hours a week facilitating this project. The project completed at the end of June, as did my contract there.
My Short Term Rental Sitch
I recently moved nearby the studio, to save some precious time commuting and also to reduce my car share usage, both from an environmental concern perspective and also from a cost saving perspective. Located in the DTES, my residential rent has gone up considerably, and so has my hustle.
I’m engaged with a ton of artists and culture workers who struggle to find affordable places to stay while visiting Vancouver to do the important work they do. And so solely through word of mouth, and primarily because a friend who was organizing a Creative City Strategy supported feminist electronic art symposium was having trouble finding artist accommodation, on July 25th (that’s about three weeks ago), I started offering occasional low cost accommodation to organizations who are bringing in these important guests, at a cost of less than half of the market price for other accommodation. On the subsequent four occasions I’ve offered this service, I’ve stayed with friends, slept in my office, or I’m petsitting – mostly geriatric animals of various kinds. I’m ok with the disruption, and it’s providing a valuable amenity as well as a tiny bit of money toward preventing us from going under. The non-profit organizations I’ve provided this to receive an invoice from our non-profit organization. The revenue that it generates goes to keeping our space alive. I’m proud to be able to help in this way, another way to provide access to space that is desperately needed.
I gave a cursory glance at an article or two about short term rentals. Given that I wasn’t publicly advertising or listing on Air BnB, short term rentals are allowed in my building and unit. And as it’s my principle residence, I didn’t think to do a deeper dive into the new STR permit – it appeared to me that based on these criteria, and that STRs were allowed starting in April, providers just had to obtain a license by end of August. Upon reflection, I should have done my due diligence to understand the implications of the grace period, which I did not. And for that I am sincerely regretful.
Fighting for Our Community Space
August is our slowest month in coworking, and we recently lost our anchor tenant to a new space opening – it was expected and understood, but the timing is awful. And so I found myself last week with only half of August rent paid, and a demand from my landlord – he can repossess in 15 days, according to the lease.
I’ve been reaching out to whoever I can think of to help in this dire situation. It’s not a lot of money that we’re behind on at the moment. I’ve reached out to the 70+ organizations that I’ve provided free or subsidized space to, a bunch of friends, and every financial and granting institution I can think of. I launched a GoFundMe campaign last week, and as of this post, after just two days, we’re 60% of the way to our immediate goal. I’m hopeful that together, we’ll be able to preserve what I think is an important and significant community space.
Me & the BoV
As if this weren’t enough to handle. A few days ago, I posted on my personal facebook page that I have availability at my place for the first two weeks of September, and that I’m offering space to visiting artists and culture workers for affordable rates. Keep that in mind while I explain that I’ve also recently applied to and been appointed to the Board of Variance (BoV). You probably don’t know what this is, but it’s important. In a nutshell, it’s a team of five volunteers, self-nominated but voted on by council, who contemplate appeals to minor permit applications. The explicit stated purpose is to “allow a degree of flexibility in the application of a zoning bylaw that might otherwise require a formal amendment.” This Board, in my understanding, takes some strain off of council in considering whether a specific instance of bylaw application is in the spirit of the intention of the Bylaw, or if the application of the bylaw should receive variance, if that application causes greater hardship than it prevents. This is a pretty great mechanism, if you ask me.
In spite of running a for-profit, two non-profits, geriatric animal care, harm reduction activism, civic engagement around our municipal election and various other projects I support, I felt the urge to do this additional civic duty. I have come to understand first hand how important zoning and bylaws are for citizens of Vancouver, and I thought it important to apply my understanding in this way. The position is a volunteer one, and receives an honorarium of $200 per meeting. We will meet twice per month, and I anticipate that it will be a time commitment of anywhere between 15 and 40 hours per month. This won’t come close to covering the time I spend away from my other projects, but it’s something, and I’m grateful. A lot of my community work yields no financial compensation at all.
Why, you may ask, did I apply to the BoV?
Having experienced the BoV process in terms of MMRU (now Cannabis Store) applications over the past months, I felt that my industry understanding as well as my grasp of the applicable zoning would be a valuable addition to the Board. Several of the decisions they (now we) are making are about this industry, and I think it’s very important to have a nuanced grasp on the factors at play. I no longer have a client in the cannabis industry. I was never an employee, but a consultant – with a focus on how to reach out to community, and how to integrate harm reduction and community accountability in a growing and lucrative business model. Fundamentally, how this industry can be a benefit to the neighbourhoods it is beginning to occupy. I have never owned, operated or invested in a dispensary (not that there is anything wrong with any of those things).
One thing to note – though many of the BoV appeals right now are about MMRUs/Cannabis Stores, the majority of them are not. The majority from my observation so far are things such as “can my laneway house be slightly closer to my neighbours property line”, “can I enclose my sundeck”, “can I cut a limb off of my neighbour’s tree if it grows over onto my property and messes up my yard” and other such things. And not to mitigate the importance of these things – they make life and business liveable, and also humanize our legislation. These things aren’t black and white, and this is one of the ways the city shows their heart and soul. (Tiny footnote: do you imagine that legions of people are scrambling for this position after my compelling description? Takes a special nerd, I think.)
Altogether Now, and the Shitstorm that is the Twitsphere
Three of these facts surfaced in a twitter “discussion” over the weekend. To recap for your better understanding – I’ve been appointed to the BoV, first meeting is August 28th. I’ve had short term accommodation available for the past three weeks, and had yet to get a license (I’ve now rectified this. License #18-607736. Details on if and how you qualify are here.). And I consulted on a cannabis based opiate substitution research study that closed because it was unable to secure an operating permit (see above). Maybe significant to note that none of these things are hidden information, unless you count the fact that I only posted the accommodation on my private facebook profile with friends of friends privacy setting – because I’m not renting to the general public.
This “conversation” rapidly devolved into absurd commentary and questioning about whether or not I have degrees, or can read blueprints, have ever built a house, the fact that I ran for nomination previously this year, speculation on the millions of dollars I’m making on my otherwise vacant rental purposed property, whether or not I’m tax evading with the use of the dispensary I don’t own or work for, whether or not the cat actually exists and a whole bunch of other total nonsense, designed to make the general public fear and distrust me, and run me “out of office” before I’m even in there. Memes created to call for a certain President’s resignation scattered liberally throughout. Don’t get me started on how problematic it is to conflate this situation with that human rights violating dumpster fire.
I am all for holding our public representatives accountable – we need to hold them to the highest standard, and I think that’s valuable civic work. But in this case, it’s outright flabbergasting to be painted as an opportunist here. And I’m frustrated that I spent many hours in the last several days fretting about damage to my hard earned, excellent reputation while making sure that I’ve done nothing wrong, and going through the proper channels to make sure I address these concerns. Most frustrating is that this twitter pile-on is not about me – it seems to be about a partisan posturing and defaming in advance of our municipal election. And it really sucks. It’s tantamount to online bullying, and there’s very little I can do about it.
It’s important to take a minute to understand context in all of our civic engagement efforts. Offering my personal, primary residence to people doing valuable work, in order to keep my non-profit, community supportive business alive is not the target of the city’s efforts to crack down on short term accommodation. This is not a part of our affordability problem. And my connection to cannabis has nothing to do with personal gain – it’s about considering and researching all of our harm reduction options while we try and figure out how to prevent people from dying as the result of dependencies on pharmaceuticals, as well as street drugs, and also from social isolation.
All of this put together strikes me as the fundamental manifestation of irony. I’m over here trying my damnedest to facilitate and support access to safe and valuable spaces in all of the ways, and that’s where my energy is needed. And I think of all of the people time it took to run after me with verbal pitchforks all weekend, and I’m sad. Because for sure, in our city, there are people doing explicitly illegal and community threatening things, and maybe even some of our elected officials. When we go on witch hunts with a covert political agenda and fail to make any effort to consider the human involved, we’re at our absolute worst. Just because the people in your world are sketchy, doesn’t mean everybody is.
And I guess here’s a fine point – as we move into this municipal election ramp up, do your due diligence before weighing in on someone else’s potentially shallow, self motivated understanding and perspective. Check your sources, and look at the bigger picture before you contribute to the erosion of real news and the actual issues. Don’t give your precious time and attention to juvenile hall monitors.
I don’t really understand the twitters yet, but I’m learning. It’s incredibly hard not to defend oneself when being ridiculed and slandered. But as they say, don’t feed the trolls! If you’ve got questions for me about who I am and what I do, send them along!
Woo, I needed to purge that. Thanks for reading. Now BACK TO THE MORE IMPORTANT SHIT!! Your support is everything.