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On April 9th at 11am, about 100 Downtown Eastside residents gathered, along with interested community workers and media, to discuss Sequel 138, a condo development on the 100 block of East Hastings street in the now demolished lot that once housed Pantages theatre. On April 23rd, Marc Williams who is the owner of the Pantages lot, will bring his proposal to the City Of Vancouver’s Development Permit Board for review.
The developers claims that no one will be displaced by an 80% condo development in the heart of a community where folks are living on welfare rates. Ivan Drury of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council says that not only is displacement inevitable, it is the goal of developers and city council and part of a larger plan to gentrify the area. “This is not simply an issue of slowly bleeding out low income hotel rooms,” says Drury. This actually the 5th biggest displacement in Vancouver’s history. In a paper released by DENC, the current displacement of DTES low income residents is placed on par with the colonial displacement of aboriginal people in the 1800’s as well as displacement of Japanese Communities and female survival sex workers. “This is a mass displacement crisis,” says Drury.
Downtown Eastside Not For Developers Coalition held the community forum to say that they are not only demanding that the City Of Vancouver not approve Sequel 138, but that the only appropriate development on this site would be one that produced 100% social housing at rates that would be affordable to those on social assistance.
There are currently 588 new condo units being proposed by various developers. When compared to the amount of new social housing units being built in North America’s poorest postal code, it actually comes to 20 condos for every one social housing unit. “This is a proposal for the destruction of a community,” says Ivan Drury.
“We need homes more than they need condos,” echoed John, a resident of the Washington Hotel.
“They want to make the 100 block into Smallville,” said John, referring to the “cleaning up” of the area that would be inevitable should the proposal go through and the block be populated by upper class individuals. Many residents were concerned that as more and more “yuppies” move into the neighbourhood, services would be lost.
Some were even concerned that Insite (Vancouver’s Safe Injection Site which is located on the same block) would be in jeopardy as condo residents may push to have it removed. “With condos popping up in this community, you will see increased policing and private security, compromised accessibility to services, and essentially zones of exclusion that are filled with judgement and stigma,” said Dean Wilson, who has been a long time advocate of harm reduction on the Downtown Eastside, espescially Insite.
Some residents of hotels in Gastown, a popular party place and home to many pricey drinking establishments, stated feeling uncomfortable leaving their hotel rooms on the weekends for fear of ridicule or even violence from drunk folks invading their neighbourhood to have a good time. “We should feel comfortable in our own community,” stated Michelle Williams of Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).
Residents fear that more condos and development in the area will lead to more and more higher income folks coming to the area and partying, displaying behaviour identical to that which gets DTES folks arrested on a daily basis. “Aren’t you more afraid of them when they come down here to party?” Marilyn of Eastside Illicit Drinkers Education Group asked this question and recieved applause and head nods from the crowd. “They get away with murder and don’t even get charged...”
“We know from experience that if we give them an inch they’ll take 500 miles,” said Williams, referring to developers and condo residents.
Marc Williams and Sequel 138 claim to actually be working for the betterment of the community. It aims to provide "affordable, entry-level housing for artists and workers in non-profits helping the people of the Downtown Eastside Vancouver, BC."
A collective of frontline support workers from various DTES organizations attended todays’ meeting to make it clear that they would not be interested in this “affordable housing.” Lauren Gill of DTES Social Workers For Social Justice said in a statement that “we refuse to take part in the brutal displacement of people we love and care for and denounce the marketing of Sequel 138 condos to us DTES workers.”
Karen Ward of Gallery Gachet, a gallery that houses the work of artists living with mental health issues, stated that the Downtown Eastside actually houses the greatest number of artists in Canada. And the Sequel 138 proposal actually includes a 3,000 square foot art space. However Ward is convinced that the community itself will not benefit from this tokenistic gesture. “The won’t be artists from our community,” said Ward. “They’ll be artists from big schools who take pictures of us and use us as their subjects.”
The next step for Sequel 138 is to be heard by the City of Vancouver’s Development Permit Board on April 23rd at 1:00pm. Ivan Drury of DENC says the this hearing by the development board is unfortunately quite often a quick “rubber stamping” stamping process and that most condo proposals make it through. This board includes members of the Gastown Business Improvement Association, who have an obvious interest in the gentrification of the DTES. Before the Development Permit Board, Williams and co. had to go through the Urban Design Panel, which included Vince Dumelin, a local artist whose organization will be running the Sequel 138 art space. An obvious conflict of interest.
There were four seats reserved for city council members at this important community event. Twenty minutes into the meeting, it was pointed out that these seats were all empty. Since the city did not show up to hear them today, the DENC will be upping the ante in hopes of finally getting their point to city council. On Tuesday April 17 at 1:00pm, a demonstration will be held at the Pantages demolition site (138 East Hastings). “One week before the City Development Permit Board is set to vote on the future of our community,” states an advertisement for the event, released by the DTES Not For Developers Coalition.
DTES residents remain confident that they will be able to overcome this act of systemic violence. They state the sense of community as what will get them through it. “I never knew what love was until I moved to the Downtown Eastside,” said Richard Cunningham of VANDU.