On June 23, 2008 about 30 Downtown Eastside residents and friends descended on City Hall to tell the Development Permit Board to stop the Concord Pacific proposal for 154 condos in their community. The Carnegie Community Action Project had already collected and sent 201 letters opposing the proposal to the board and city councilors.
First, city staff outlined the project, trying to anticipate every argument they thought we would bring. Jill Davidson from the city’s Housing Centre assured the board that the city’s policy of replacing each SRO unit with a new unit of social housing is being met, using statistics that counted provincially owned SROs as replacements for SROS and ignoring the fact that many hotels are inaccessible to low income people because of high rents, daily/weekly and student only rentals.
Then about 30 people spoke. Every speaker asked the board to turn down the proposal.
Here’s what some of the them said:
Wendy Pedersen, CCAP organizer: “We need some indication that there is a future here for low income people. Otherwise condos at 58 are like a slap in the face. It is so disrespectful to build half million dollar homes for the rich when people are dying in the streets.”
“I understand that many people want our community to change. We want change too. But we want healthy change, not the dysfunctional change where one group of people takes over …and people get pushed around and pushed out.”
Wendy quoted the Director of the city’s Housing Center, Cameron Gray: “The pace of development is like a hurricane and is going twice as fast as the DTES Housing Plan predicted.”
“Neighbourhood change should not be driven by the market. It should be driven by a plan.”
Joe LeBlanc a DTES resident recently elected to the Carnegie Board: “I’ve traveled all over and the support I’ve received in the DTES has made a huge difference in my life….We have to stop the condos at this point and build a lot of social housing.”
Lora Constantinescue lives in Grandview: “The DTES is a community where I am inspired…. It’s undeniable that homeless people need homes….Wealthy people are disrespectfully surging through the community.”
Glyn Shepard lives on Keefer St.: “We live in the 400 block Keefer deliberately because of the people who are our neighbourbors, because of the community….Hold the word community in your mind in all the things you do.”
Jean Swanson of CCAP: “SROs are not replacements for SROs….If you allow condos to take up land and push up prices in the DTES, hotels will push out more low income people who will become homeless on the street. This is more important that cornices, or “variability and syncopations of the retail elevation.”
Matthew Matthew, president of the Carnegie Centre Community Association: “people with HIV can get medication for free that costs several thousand dollars a month, but they can’t get housing….It appears that money speaks louder than all the voices here….Every unit of new market housing is more than just something that’s not for us. It means our shops and servies will disappear because they’ll serve the new people….Where will we go to? Will we be just some footnote somewhere?”
Harsha Wallia, Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre: “The reality of 1 for 1 replacement is a myth….About 1200 units have been lost since 2003. The city is selecting and fudging figures to serve interests of corporate developers like Concord Pacific…Every single person in this room is committed to fighting these condo’s. Either you do the right thing or take on the community.”
Rev. Mother Emily Smith, Anglican Church: “The Anglican Church is not known as a hotbed of radicals….When you get church ladies mad, you’re in trouble….Greed is not a family value to uphold. We have a responsibility to act with love, compassion and justice, and not for profit.”
Dave Diewert works with Streams of Justice: “People can do evil without intent….People in the DTES are about to be rendered superfluous to developer’s ambitions. We need something better. People are dying because they have no housing.”
Father Mathew Johnson of St. James Anglican Church: “58 W. Hastings has become a potent symbot for the DTES, a symbol of a system that works for affluence.”
Elvin Wylie, an assistant professor of Geography at UBC: “We need rate of change management tools.”
Mike Wartman, a DTES condo owner: “We already have a community. What we need are homes. Let’s not bring other people in until we take care of people who are here.”
Ayisha Faruk, CCAP volunteer: From a Third workd country’s perspective, this is a damn shame….The community doesn’t want crumbs that fall from the devlopers table. The rich are getting richer and the poor are watching.”
Mike Powar, UBC student: “People effectively deconstructed all the arguments (for the proposal) on every front. How much role will the people play? The project has no grounds to continue.”
Jay Black, city worker: “Its time to slow everything down…Allow residents to have a say in visioning and creating a community. Concord Pacific, how about giving something back for a change? Why not make it all social housing?”
Muriel Williams, DTES resident: “I pray you really hear or maybe have some backbone, and if you don’t, maybe you’ll have trouble sleeping.”
Stephen Rathjen, “recovering yuppie” from Kitsilano who volunteers at Union Gospel Mission: “I still buy Starbucks….I used to go thru the DTES on the bus and hope no one got on. I didn’t want to see it, to know it. All I wanted to think was ‘those people need to get jobs.’….Something else is going on. You can’t put it in statistics. The lives that have put people there. Residential school abuse, foster child abuse, evictions… All I do is hand out coffee. Sometimes people come in in the morning and are so blue they can’t put the coffee to their mouth….These groups are just bandaids…. In this room today there’s a choice that can affect these people and not be just a bandaid….What needs to be said to you guys to get you to understand that this doesn’t make sense?”
At the end the board approved the proposal, making two small “considerations” as a result of the opposition. A consideration is not a requirement. One consideration was “that staff and Concord Pacific work to educate and inform prospective purchasers of the goal of supporting and retaining low income housing in the DTES. The other was, “That the applicants and staff continue to consult with the DTES community prior to the release of the permit.”
Did we win anything, even though the proposal will go ahead? A few more people on the Development Permit Board got a lesson on how the DTES is a real community. The city and Concord Pacific were warned that the DTES will fight more condos if the needs of existing residents are not met. City staff had to deal with more pressure for them to allow DTES residents to create their own vision and for staff to create mechanisms to control the rate of change in the area, as well as pressure to get more social housing built. Concord may try throwing a few crumbs to the community to get us to back off.
“We don’t want crumbs,” said Pedersen. “We want Concord and other developers to back off until we have a proper community vision and until the city is willing to control the rate of change effectively, and build more housing.” Community members are invited to a meeting today at 2 pm at VANDU to plan a protest against the developer.