Big attendance at Town Hall meeting shows concern about gentrification

“We really need a Starbucks on every corner.”
“Gentrification is good because dumpster divers will get better stuff!”
“There will be more people to rob!”

These were some of the off-beat funny comments made at an intense community discussion at a Town Hall meeting in the Carnegie Theatre last week.

But most of the discussion was very serious as about 80 residents grappled with what gentrification means (the process of richer people moving into a run down neighbourhood and pushing out the poor) and what to do to stop it.

At the beginning of the meeting, residents talked about the good things that are threatened by gentrification like the community, the acceptance, cheap stores for food and clothing, art, services for low-income people, amazing creativity of residents and the “good mornings” that you get on the street in this small town like atmosphere. One resident said that he likes the DTES because “we’re not here trying to beat each other up to make money.”

Then Diane Wood read poetry about class divisions and media exploitation in the DTES from her book “The Soul of Vancouver.” Dave Murray from VANDU talked about how “the word gentrification seems like one of ‘their’ words, but the city hates us using ‘gentrification’ because it exposes their agenda so they call it ‘revitalization.’”

Tony Snakeskin was a Woodward’s squatter who now lives at Woodward’s in the social housing. He said: “I see a lot of it happening more and more, the rich people are moving in: art spaces, restaurants are popping up. A lot of us who are from here are getting pushed out. The services that we need are no longer going to be here and that’s what’s pushing us out. Slowly our community is getting more and more smaller.” Later Tony said “we need a strong association so Portland and other agencies have to talk to us before they make deals with developers. We should not settle for crumbs.”

Tami Starlight talked about living through drug use, survival sex work and how “I want to live here because this is the best neighbourhood that I know.” She said she runs into friends who have been pushed out to Surrey. We need to “mobilize, join the DNC, which is a resident council. We want the most marginalized in our community to have the greatest voice, which is the opposite of City Hall.”

Richard Cunningham of VANDU said, “I’m really pissed off about this because there are so many talented people here who shouldn’t be pushed out. We are human beings, we are not sewage. If they are going to treat us like sewage, then let’s act like sewage and raise a real stink!”

Wendy Pedersen from CCAP explained that residents are being displaced from hotel rooms by rent increases due to land speculation, how zoning causes gentrification by making land more valuable for development and that City Hall controls zoning. Fraser Stuart, a hotel dweller, talked about his experience going to City Hall. “This is how it works: you go to council and speak and the politicians say ‘We agree with everything you say,’ but then they vote against you.”

Here are the things people said that could possibly save our community from being wiped out:
1. Cover up the statements made at London Drugs with our own portraits and statements about the impact of gentrification.
2. Push our vision for the area.
3. Raise welfare rates so we have some disposable income and can support the community stores that serve us.
4. Rallies
5. DNC’s fight for 10 sites campaign
6. National housing strategy
7. Rent and bus fare strikes
8. Harass developers
9. Organize
10. Riot. I don’t think the woman who said this really means it but it is a testament to the level of frustration and futility that residents feel about the situation.

There are some city planning processes coming up that residents can get involved in too, that may slow gentrification if our presence is strong and our message unified.

Stay tuned and stay in touch with CCAP for more information about opportunities to speak to the city about this and upcoming actions.