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Up until recently, Pam Burge was one of the few remaining tenants in the city’s Olympic Village social housing on False Creek. Since moving into the Olympic Village almost two years ago, problems with rent, utility bills and tenancy rights accumulated “without end.” Burge has been forced out of her housing in a post-Olympic drama containing many lessons but little in the way of answers and accountability.

Burge had been living in her one-bedroom apartment at 80 Walter Hardwick in the Olympic Village since April of 2011. The building is one of three city-owned buildings in the Olympic Village managed by COHO property management. The same company also manages The Athletes Village Housing Coop and 121 Walter Hardwick. All of these buildings are meant to provide a mix of market housing and non-market housing for low-income tenants. However, Burge states that a mix of housing simply does not exist in her former community: “There is no social housing at the Olympic Village.” Most of the units are more suited to higher income tenants, according to Burge, and she estimated that there were only about five tenants, including herself, who were “genuinely in core need of social housing.” However, she said that these tenants were in the process of being “forced out.”

herb_pidgin

The Pidgin picket has pressured the city government to declare its stance on the gentrification of Vancouver’s most affordable neighborhood. City Councilor Kerry Jang has thrown his support behind gentrification in general, and has made a point of making personal appearances at the Pidgin/21 Doors project in particular. This has revealed a contradiction of the city’s policies: the mayor claims to oppose homelessness, but at the same time promotes a targeted gentrification policy that is causing the rapid loss of affordable housing in the DTES. The Pidgin restaurant itself is part of the 21 Doors condo project, which displaced 30 low income families when tenants were evicted in 2008. Pidgin is only blocks from the Woodward’s project, which resulted in the direct loss of eight hotels and 404 low income units in a 1-block radius since 2010. Today Woodward’s is flanked on all sides by high-end boutique stores instead of affordable housing.

Against the visible facts on the ground, Kerry Jang is arguing that gentrification is not causing the loss of low income housing in Vancouver’s Eastside, stating, “Gentrification is a problem if people are being displaced. But no one is being displaced.” As evidence, Jang points to a statistic from a recent city hall report — a statistic also used in an article published today in the Tyee by Doug Ward: “The study found that the number of low-income housing units in Vancouver’s downtown core not only stabilized during the gentrification boom that came before and after the 2010 Olympics — it’s on the rise.”

shelter evictions

This week the City conducted its annual homelessness count. As usual, the count was conducted shortly before the closure of several emergency shelters. This April five shelters are set to close, resulting in a net loss of approximately 200 shelter beds.[1] No replacement shelters have been planned. The homelessness count is a public relations stunt timed weeks before the yearly shelter closures.

Since the start of the Homelessness Emergency Action Team (HEAT) program in 2008/9, the annual closure of the shelters in April has caused an exodus of people from shelters onto the
street. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, residents of the closing HEAT shelters were ruthlessly evicted. The shelter closures were largely ignored by the corporate press and statisticians, while limited funding extensions have been repeatedly mis-reported as creating “new” shelter spaces.

article photo, credit Tami Starlight

DTES residents and allies from across the city vow to continue picketing Pidgin restaurant at Carrall and Hastings until it packs up and leaves. They aren’t asking for jobs, sympathy or token charitable gestures. Picketers are saying “no” to the incursion of business interests upon low-income homes and livelihoods.

According to DTES resident and picketer Fraser Stuart, “shutting down Pidgin sends a message to all gentrifiers: the DTES is not open for business until our housing needs are met. We need 5,000 new welfare-rate units to meet the need, and they have to go in before any more condos go in.”