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Considerable media attention and public debate begin to swirl, after the discovery of more than twenty squatters who have taken up residence in four empty houses on Frances Street. With citywide vacancy rates below 1%, and B.C. being the only province in Canada without rent-control legislation, The Frances Street Squats immediately become emblematic of the overall housing crisis affecting many Vancouverites.
Despite eviction threats from owner Ning Yee, and rumours of “Assault by Trespass” arrests by the VPD, the squatters quickly gain widespread community support, including an endorsement from the Grandview-Woodland Area Council, and a front-page article in The Globe and Mail.
“Part of the reason the coverage was so positive was, I think, because we were presented as ‘helpless homeless’, driven to desperate acts by the housing crisis,” Keith Chu, a Frances Street squatter will write, in the summer 1990 issue of Artest Magazine. “We were very much ‘victims’, and therefore acceptable [...] The media definitely changed everything. Since then we haven’t heard from Ning Yee and we are moving happily into our fifth month.”
Over the next seven months, the squatters will host community events, barbeques, and consistently avoid any attempt at eviction, becoming one of the most successful public squats in North America.
“I remember reading in the newspapers about Jack Poole and the Vancouver Land Corporation,” Chu continues, “about how they were going to build several hundred units of housing for moderate income earners, about their operating capital of $25 million, funded by union pensions and the city of Vancouver. Poole was quoted as saying that they were going to try extra hard so that some of the one bedroom apartments might be as low as $600. It turns out that this year they’ll be building less that 50 units of housing. Meanwhile, on Frances street, twenty five people have provided housing for themselves, with no operating capital, no bureaucracy and no rent. Imagine if $25 million was given to people to squat the several hundred buildings and apartment units left empty for months by real estate speculators and to do their own repairs. More housing would be ‘created’ than Jack Poole could ever dream of. [...] Instead, in other cities, developers and city councilors have responded to squatters by vandalising empty houses. Electrical wiring is ripped out, toilets are plugged with cement, windows are smashed [...] It’s amazing what lengths some will go to keep others homeless.”
Image: Single frame image from The Beat of Frances Street, a 45-minute documentary, circa 1990, on the Frances Street Squats, featuring interviews and original footage from the squatters themselves.
Video Bonus: The Beat of Frances Street- the full documentary