Voices Against Displacement: Herb Varley’s speech to City Council


On Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday this past week over a hundred people spoke at City Hall while city council deliberated over the Downtown Eastside local area plan. For three days residents and supporters agitated against elements of the plan that put forward tenant relocation and widespread displacement. In this series, we’ll feature some of those powerful and moving speeches heard at City Hall. These speeches belong to the community and the authors have kindly allowed us to re-publish their words. If you have a speech that you want to share with us, email us at mainlander.hub@gmail.comEditors

Herb Varley

DTES Local Area Plan,
Wednesday, March 12

I am a disenfranchised member of the DNC [Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council]. I was the longest serving co-chair of the DNC until I was unduly removed. I am here to present the Low-income Caucus’s position. I have some information here – I have some pamphlets, if madam clerk can please dispense these.

So the Low-income Caucus is made up of members of the LAPP [Local Area Planning Process] and people who were interested in the process but weren’t actually on the LAPP committee. Since we were lacking a robust and democratic Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council we formed to strategize around the LAPP. We have thirteen points, many of which tie together. One, we need [City] Council to call this what it is: a housing crisis. We’re doing ourselves a disservice by glossing over the enormity of this crisis. If we really want senior levels of government to re-invest in a social safety net, we must show them the depths of despair, the depths of poverty that people live in. Don’t gloss over it. You have a chance to team up with the mayor of New Westminster – who is also going through a housing crisis – and go to the senior levels of government and say look, here’s at least two mayors who are dealing with housing issues: we need money. We need money. The senior levels of government work for us, they work for us – we need to remember that.

We need to define social housing. For at least the purposes of the DTES, social housing should be defined as accessible to those on fixed incomes, whatever the rates may be at any given times, and if they get a job, they shouldn’t lose their tenure. They should just pay 30 per cent of what they’re making once they are working. The Low-income Caucus does support the 60-40 [in the DEOD]. We do support it. However it doesn’t go far enough. As Mr. Geller kindly pointed it out, it’s probably not feasible without senior levels of government. We’re pragmatic enough to know that. Mr. Harper won’t be in office forever. Unless he changes the rules somehow, he won’t be in office forever. Christy Clark won’t be in office forever. What the 60-40 will do is buy this neighbourhood some time, to preserve its character, to preserve the spirit.

I’m sorry, I forgot to acknowledge the Musqueam, the Tseil-Waututh, and the Squamish people who are the traditional caretakers of this land. In spite of what developers tell you, we don’t own anything. In spite of what the senior levels of government tell you, we do not own anything. We borrow this land from our great, great, great, great grandchildren, so it is our sacred responsibility to take care of it, to make sure we nourish the soil so that it can produce food…in the future. We need to renovate these scuzzy-ass SRO’s. I doubt any of you would let your pets live in there, let alone your brother, or your sister, or your daughter, or your son.

We need safety for all. Not just people who believe they own land. Safety for all. We need to end discrimination. In the DTES there is rampant police abuse. Much of it goes unchecked. Rather than building a tech center at the old police station, we should build an ombuds-office where people can go complain and make their voices heard.

A full video of Herb’s speech can be found here