Where do we go from here?

Based the Right to the City Forum speech by CCAP’s Wendy Pedersen Nov 23, 2009

Western Investor, a real estate magazine, featured a story about the former chairman of VANOC, Jack Poole. The story was about a meeting that Poole had with real estate developers. The editor Frank O’Brien said in the story: “the real purpose of the 2010 Olympic bid is to seduce the provincial and federal governments and long-suffering taxpayers into footing a billion-dollar bill to pave the path for future real estate sales.” O’Brien quoted Poole saying: “If the Olympic bid wasn’t happening, we would have to invent something.”

Keep that in mind as you read this about the DTES.

CCAP is working on a vision for the DTES. We’re uniting workers, low-income people, our historical communities, the Aboriginal and Chinese, drug users and supporters who own property in the area. Despite the slanderous epithets in the media about the DTES, we are a real neighbourhood. We have amazing assets. We have a rich culture, necessities that are close by, community services, some that we started ourselves, parks that have become spiritually important. We work for social justice, put in trillions of hours into volunteering to improve our community, work in social enterprises and we have tons of community spirit. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re such a strong community and for all the organizing we do, we’d have been wiped out decades ago by development.

Low-income DTES residents make up 70% of the population in the area. Our vision is based on the principle that the low-income community in the DTES has the right to exist and to seek improvements for itself.

But the DTES is being erased. Woodwards was “so successful” that it forced up the price of land nearby. Rents have gone up in the hotels. Property owners are protesting new social housing. Concord Pacific, one of the biggest real estate companies in Canada, has moved in. The city is subsidizing chain stores to move into the area. The little guys are getting pushed out, not only the drug users off the street but the small businesses, artists, the families and seniors of all ethnicities. Our community is at risk of disappearing.

The city is using tools that are erasing the DTES. The city uses “crazy accounting” to show that we’re on track for social housing in the DTES, such as counting the 3 bedroom units renting for about $1600 at Woodwards as social housing. They also count BC Housing’s newly purchased hotels as “new” social housing. CCAP found a vision for the DTES written by a city planner that says that the DTES needs richer people to move in so that the behaviour of poor people will improve. Instead of studying the social and economic impact of new condos on a low-income area, the city asked the public last spring, how we would feel about the “look” of taller buildings. Council may pass a motion in January to add more height on buildings that will likely be used for condos.

The city has used the Olympics to get resources to speed up gentrification and make the DTES more acceptable to potential condo owners and gentrification. For example, there has been more support for government for arts stuff. The new “greenway” will create a “safe” route for tourists between Gastown and Chinatown. The sidewalks got redone. Hastings was repaved. Storefronts got spruced up. The mayor, as Chair of the Police Board, could enforce the ultimate cosmetic act, the Assistance to Shelter Act, could move the homeless off the street.

How can we stop this? Well, that’s hard but not impossible. And it won’t happen overnight as a lot of damage has been done. We need to organize more.

In 2010, CCAP will organize DTES residents to get to city council on Jan 19th to stop more condos in the DTES until we have a plan to preserve our assets and secure the tenure of the existing community. CCAP is working to unite the whole community around a vision and to implement it. So far, what we have done is massive in scope, reaching out to 1200 DTES residents for the visioning so far. We’re starting an elected resident’s council in the DTES that hopefully will do this visioning work and give us a structure that is robust and efficient. The draft vision is proactive, challenging but do-able if we get citywide support. So roll up your sleeves DTES residents. We’ll be asking more of you to tell us if we’re on the right track and to join in to make it happen. Everything good we have in the DTES has happened because we know how to do this and we do it well. See you in the New Year.