Don’t Displace the Soul of Vancouver

Attitudes about gentrification seem to be getting really polarized. In the DTES low income people can feel their community assets slipping away. These are the assets Wendy and I wrote about in our CCAP vision and mapping project: things like a feeling of belonging, of comfort, of not being judged, of being in a place where you can exist and socialize without money, of valuing caring, empathy, providing sanctuary for people who aren’t welcome in other places, empathizing with those who are suffering—this feeling that its all slipping away has sparked some people in the community to picket the Pigdin restaurant as a symbol of gentrification.

I remember coming here to speak on the DTES Housing Plan as a delegation back in 2005 and knowing it wasn’t everything we needed but being comforted by the no displacement part.

Last week you had a report on housing and some of you were congratulating yourselves that things are going so well. This is infuriating to us in the DTES. We have 850 homeless people just in the DTES. We have about 5000 people in crummy SROs with no bathroom or kitchen and bugs. At the current rate of building new social housing it will take 54 years to solve this crisis. This year only 24 new self contained units opened up. This is a housing crisis not a housing victory.

Yesterday we released our CCAP hotel report. We found that between 2011 and 2012 we lost at least 426 affordable SRO rooms—they went up in price to $425 or higher. That brings to over 2000 the number of privately owned and run SRO rooms that are over $425. This means low income people have had to leave them or that they are basically starving, cause welfare is only $610.

The DTES HP says the pace of change in the DTES should be 1-unit of social housing to 1 unit of market housing. But in Chinatown alone, if you let all these condos go through, the pace of change will be 51 market units to 1 welfare rate unit. 51:1. We predict that rents in the 388 units in Chinatown will go up like they have around WW. We predict the stores that serve low income people will get priced out by higher taxes and rents. More $50 haircuts instead of $8 ones. More displacement of low income people. More homelessness. Low income community assets, caring, empathy, being non-judgmental: gone.

This is the community that won Insite the only safe injection site in N America. The community that fought for 7 years to get a community centre like other neighbourhoods have, the community that had to occupy a police board meeting to get the same reward offered for murdered women as for garage robbers, a community that camped out for months to get a waterfront park. This is where you want to put wall to wall condos and call it diversity. This is where you want to ignore 850 homeless people and say “this is such a fantastic report you can’t help but wax eloquent about it.”

You could stop the polarization and the tearing apart of the community with leadership: you could say, yes we do have a crisis because its true and also because when you say everything is fine you undermine your ability to work for fed and prov housing money. You could buy land for social housing so you’d have something to negotiate with like you had with the 14 sites. And you could say no to a 17 story gentrifying condo tower until you fulfill your promise of no displacement. If you think you need a justification, use the housing plan: its not 1 to 1 replacement and we need to hold off gentrification until there’s money for welfare rate social housing.

Otherwise, Like a previous council that presided over the displacement of Hogans Alley, you will be the council that presided over the displacement of the neighbourhood that is the soul of Vancouver, the base for human rights struggles, the place where one man told us “It’s the first place I ever found with people who are comfortable with who I am.”

Jean Swanson’s presentation to city council against the rezoning proposal at 611 Main