DTES Community organizing against Sequel 138 condos shows united opposition to displacement by gentrification.
The date is looming for the City’s Development Permit Board meeting to decide the fate of the Sequel 138 condo proposal. It’s been a year since nine major Downtown Eastside (DTES) community organizations formed a coalition to stop Sequel 138 condos. Their campaign involves thousands of DTES residents, workers, social housing providers, artists… united in opposition to a bad proposal for a destructive condo project in the heart of the most vulnerable urban community in the country.
In the midst of a gentrification storm in the Downtown Eastside with more than 688 new condo units proposed or planned this year, the Sequel 138 proposal at the Pantages site might seem like a strange project to target. It’s only 79 condos, it doesn’t require a rezoning, and it includes 9 units of welfare rate social housing. But the Sequel project is different because it is the first condo proposal ever made in the DTES Oppenheimer District, where 80% of the residents are low-income and most live in substandard SRO hotel rooms.
Most importantly the Oppenheimer District was highlighted by city planners and lawmakers (back when they actually talked about social housing) as the area expected to host most of the needed social housing for the DTES. To make this goal possible they drew up an “inclusionary zoning” bylaw to keep land prices and rents low and keep the real estate speculators at bay: any new development in the area must include 20% social housing. Now, if the city gives a green light to the Sequel project, speculators and developers will swarm over the cheap land as investment opportunities.
More than 1,000 low-income people live on the 100-block of East Hastings where Sequel is proposed. It is home to critical low-income cultural centres and resources like the Carnegie centre, the DTES Women’s Centre, Insite and Onsite harm reduction facilities, and Aboriginal Front Door Society. It is the beating heart of the low-income community, where assets of the low-income community are rooted and thrive. People on fixed incomes do volunteer work, drug users and illicit drinkers access peer support networks, urban Aboriginal people organize cultural survival and support, women have made safety and health resources, and, most importantly, people who feel discriminated against, harassed, stigmatized and abused everywhere else in the city feel comfortable.
The campaign against Sequel 138 condos defends these human values against the threat of cultural and physical displacement by gentrification. It is a struggle for community values that don’t have a price tag against the money-making rights of a real estate investor in the most real estate happy place on Turtle Island.
In all, more than 40 DTES community organizations have signed our resolution to stop Sequel 138 condos and build 100% resident controlled social housing on the 100-block of East Hastings. We have collected more than 3,000 signatures on petitions and letters to send to council against the condo project. And every major social housing provider and DTES arts group has supported our demands and refused to work with Marc Williams’ Sequel 138 community destruction project.
Under the pressure of our campaign last year two separate city development boards turned away Marc Williams’ Sequel 138 proposal; the Urban Design Panel, and the City Director of Planning. His “new” proposal still promises the same low-income community destruction and displacement as the old one, and as the Development Permit hearing nears (Monday April 23!) our coalition has been ramping up our fight.
On Tuesday April 10 we held a rally where more than 125 people and 16 community organizations made statements against the condo project. (read more here)
And on Tuesday April 17 we organized a delegation of nearly 100 DTES residents to take our message to city council. The moment we entered council chambers most of the city councillors fled. Again they missed the proud, beautiful, and defiant statements of members of the DTES community. Many of us held red paper hearts in our hands and over our heads as we heard each other speak; hearts that said: “We love our home! We need 100% social housing!” “Love, not money,” and, “DTES needs housing not condos!” (See media coverage of this action here)
In response to the rational, logical, passionate, policy, and human reasons and arguments against Sequel 138, City Council responds with only one justification for it going ahead: they are following the legal processes of development applications. And Marc Williams responds with lies about his project not displacing anyone, with hateful slurs comparing drug users to rats, and the developer mantra that all development is good. And even the media chimes in and calls for “clean up” of the Downtown Eastside, whether by condos or police baton (as though there is a difference).
The debate over Sequel 138 condos is heated with good reason. It is not just about a single building, and it is not just about the low-income community in the Downtown Eastside. There are powerful questions hidden in this simple condo project proposal:
Does one man’s private property right outweigh the well-being and clear unanimous will of thousands of the most vulnerable people in Vancouver?
And, on a more general moral-philosophical point, What makes a person (or a community) valuable to society? If the answer is money, then bring in Sequel 138 and ring the bell for a triumphant Marc Williams. But if we recognize the inherent good and wealth of each person’s being, we can recognize that the Downtown Eastside is where the dispossessed and displaced sleep, where those who don’t feel welcome anywhere feel at home. Poet Sandy Cameron called the Downtown Eastside the soul of Vancouver. Those of us fighting Sequel 138 condos think he was right. And we think Vancouver needs a soul.
The Downtown Eastside is Not for Developers Coalition consists of: Aboriginal Front Door, Carnegie Community Action Project, Citywide Housing Coalition, DTES Neighbourhood Council, DTES Power of Women Group, Gallery Gachet, Streams of Justice, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, and Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society. See their website at http://dtesnotfordevelopers.wordpress.com
Photos courtesy of Flux Photo