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.
UNCEDED COAST SALISH TERRITORY, VANCOUVER: On Tuesday April 10th more than 100 Downtown Eastside residents gathered for a rally in the theatre of the Carnegie centre to sound an alarm: Displacement, they said, is happening. And worse, if city council does not take immediate and serious action, it will quickly become a desperate crisis.
The rally was motivated by developer Marc Williams’ proposal to build 79 quarter-million-dollar condos on the 100-block of East Hastings Street, between the Regent and Brandiz hotels and across the street from North America’s only legal supervised injection site. The proposal is years in the making and was rejected by two separate city bodies last year but is back and scheduled to go to vote at the city’s Development Permit Board on Monday April 23. That board, made up of developers, business investors and other political appointees, will vote on the project based on its measure within existing building policies. The DTES Not for Developers Coalition has been organizing against the project for about a year, and Tuesday’s rally continued their call for City Hall to reject the project.
Sixteen community groups gathered with the DTES Not for Developers Coalition to speak in one voice from their diverse specific perspectives and demand that the city say no to “Sequel 138″ condos and to buy the site and dedicate it entirely to welfare and old age pension rate social housing.
The rally was opened with statements from people who live in SRO hotels on the 100-block of East Hastings, where the condo project is proposed. Washington Hotel residents are “illicit drinkers, drug users, and we struggle with our mental and physical health. We are the people who are not wanted by developers and condo owners.” Their statement was read by John Skulsh, who said, “We don’t have housing options, we have housing ultimatums: Live in this 10×10 room without the privacy of your own bathroom, and without the health, food, and hygiene choices of having your own kitchen, or go back to the street.”
EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION | Since publishing Part I of this three-part series, other publications have followed suit, with similar columns appearing in the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier. The articles signal a recognition that the phenomenon of affordability-scapegoating is quickly losing ground in Vancouver. There is a growing realization that, to quote Pete McMartin, “race is the unspoken issue surrounding real estate prices.” At the same time, those short articles fit into a mode of commentary increasingly associated with Vancouver: oblique and evasive, identified by an ability to ask questions rather than provide answers. Either by the practice of method journalism, faux-naïveté, or the constraints of journalistic neutrality tinged with what Am Johal calls “the epidemic of politeness,” such writing cannot help but come up short of its target. Here in Part II, Crompton shows that while racialized scapegoating relies on unsubstantiated anecdotes, the economic facts clearly show that Asian buyers are not responsible for Vancouver’s housing crisis. Crompton argues that the responsibility lies squarely at the feet of Vancouver’s local ruling-class and its neo-liberal policies.
EDITORAL INTRODUCTION | From the start, Vancouver has been marked by a history of racism against Chinese and Asian immigrants, a fact which few commentators can overlook (although not few enough, as this article demonstrates in its sharp critique of Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk). Part I of this three-part essay by Nathan Crompton reaches into contemporary Vancouver to find that despite the passage of time, original assumptions and archetypes of race and class have proven indispensable for an ongoing history of scapegoating – a history that has, according to Crompton, reached a peak in today’s discussion of housing in Vancouver. Far from signaling the simple break away from the city’s colonial past, the mystical real-estate economy proves fertile grounds for the re-capitulation of the time-tested logic of political scapegoating. This three-part essay is sure to have an impact not only for its use of historical and empirical research to blow the lid off assumptions that Vancouver’s housing crisis can be explained by Asian capital, but for its direct critique of household politicians and commentators. From Sandy Garossino to Gregor Robertson, few are spared in this militant clarion-call to move beyond the present by clearing out the skeletons of history.
At different points throughout the 125 years of its history, colonial Vancouver has blamed its problems on others. The relation between “citizens” and “foreigners” underlying the identity of Vancouver has been at times explosive – as when anti-Asian riots attacked Chinatown and Japantown in 1907. Flashpoints occurred again in the 1880s, the 1900s, the 1930s, the 1970s and 1990s, always with the same result: to draw up new lines of exclusion and discrimination while deepening the political disorientation of the times. At other moments the relationship has been segregated but passive, embedded in the habits and rituals of the city. Today, when it is assumed that xenophobic movements could not gain the same momentum as 100 years ago, the penchant to blame “foreigners” for local problems continues. In an assessment of contemporary Vancouver, Henry Yu once asked presciently, “is Vancouver the future or the past”? If the question reads like a riddle, it is because the answer is equally uncertain. As extreme-right movements today pick up momentum in Europe and elsewhere in the context of financial crisis and long-term economic stagnation, it is now more than ever that we should examine global and local histories of racism and xenophobia.
Fin de siècle Vancouver
There was recently a telling moment when Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk used his column to target Vancouver school board trustee, Allan Wong. Hasiuk attacked Wong for a motion put forward at the school board calling on the province to incorporate the history of British Columbians of Chinese descent into the regular provincial curriculum. Curriculum changes were not needed, according to Hasiuk, since there is already too much Chinese Canadian history taught in the secondary curriculum. Hasiuk moreover mocks the Head Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Canadian Pacific Railway as a “holy trinity” in both the curriculum and cultural memory of Vancouver.