More than 200 people gathered at the corner of Main and Hastings streets today (June 11) to voice their opposition against the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside.
They carried signs and chanted slogans calling for affordable housing. Several speakers placed an emphasis on the rights of aboriginal people, and argued that a lack of affordable housing contributes to high levels of violence against women.
Herb Varley, a resident of the Downtown Eastside who served as an MC for the demonstration, told the Straight that rising rents are forcing many low-income earners out of the area they consider their home.
“Many people who I’ve talked to, they’ve said that in other neighborhoods, they don’t feel welcome and that they don’t have a connection to those neighborhoods,” Varley said just before the protest got underway. “And then they came down here and they found themselves and they found a community… but now they’re being forced to leave.”
Varley, who also goes by the Nisga’a name Gwin Ga’adihl Amma Goot, is a member of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process, which is working with the City of Vancouver to improve the quality of life in the area. But he said he’s dissatisfied with that process.
He claimed that while more than 1,000 condos have been approved for the few blocks immediately surrounding the Carnegie Community Centre, less than three dozen affordable housing units have been made available in that same area.
“We’ve been asked to work in good faith, but every condo unit that comes and gets approved is a show of bad faith,” Varley explained. “So we’ve had a thousand shows of bad faith versus two dozen shows of good faith, with maybe another 12 still up in the air. That’s not a very good ratio and we are understandably upset about that.”
After approximately 20 minutes blocking the intersection of Main and Hastings streets, the group of demonstrators moved one block east, to the BC Housing office at Hastings and Gore streets. There, a number of speakers expressed frustration with what they described as that office’s failure to provide affordable housing in the Downtown Eastside.
As the march moved back west along Hastings Street, Ivan Drury, one of the event’s organizers, told the Straight that he has participated in the city’s Local Area Planning Process for two years and has yet to see the initiative make any difference in the Downtown Eastside.
“People are here today because being included in a planning process is not enough,” Drury said. “People are here today because we need justice, not accommodations for the real estate market.”
“The voices of low income people are being marginalized,” he added.
Addressing a group of Downtown Eastside advocates in April 2013, city manager Penny Ballem said that affordable housing and related issues are a “major focus” of the city.
“The city is working very hard to leverage all the opportunities that we can to improve housing for low-income people, to renovate and rehabilitate housing, and there’s a lot of work still to be done,” she emphasized.