Housing in crisis: A qualitative study of the socio-legal contexts of residential evictions in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Int J Drug Policy. 2019 Sep;71:169-177. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2018.12.012. Epub 2019 Mar 26.


Background: People who use drugs (PWUD) commonly experience housing vulnerability due to the intersection of drug laws, housing policies, gentrification, and social marginalization. Housing vulnerability produces social suffering amongst PWUD and is linked to health and social harms. In Vancouver, Canada, the rapid gentrification of the Downtown Eastside - a low-income inner-city neighbourhood - and the lack of affordable housing has led to residential evictions emerging as a key community concern. This study sought to understand the policies and practices that produced evictions among PWUD, situating vulnerabilities to evictions within the context of wider structural vulnerability of PWUD.

Methods: Between June 2015 and March 2016, baseline and 3-6 month follow-up qualitative interviews were conducted with recently evicted (past 60 days) PWUD in the Downtown Eastside. Participants were recruited by Peer Research Assistants. Baseline interviews (n = 56) focused on causes and socio-legal contexts of evictions, with follow-up interviews (n = 41) focusing on longer-term impacts. Interviews were analyzed thematically and interpreted by drawing on the concept of structural vulnerability.

Results: Most participants were evicted unlawfully, unfairly, and into homelessness. Participants were rendered structurally vulnerable to unlawful evictions by the shortcomings of existing residential tenancy laws and current dispute mechanisms. Residents of non-profit buildings, for whom it was unclear if provincial residential protections apply, found their housing security further undermined through the denial of rights extended to privately-housed tenants. Attempts to assert tenant rights further increased participants' vulnerability to eviction through landlord retaliation and targeting.

Conclusion: Findings demonstrate the inadequacy of existing housing policies and tenancy supports to account for the structural vulnerability of PWUD and their role in driving harms. Policy reforms are needed to address unlawful evictions and increase tenancy security, and must be accompanied by low-barrier interventions to more fully address this key driver of social suffering among PWUD.

Keywords: Drug use; Evictions; Homelessness; Housing; Poverty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • British Columbia / epidemiology
  • Drug Users / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Homeless Persons / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Homeless Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Housing / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty
  • Qualitative Research
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Vulnerable Populations / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult

Grant support