Letter from Chair of Urban Studies at UBC About Gentrification and Pantages

30 July 2011
Dear Mayor and Council,

I write to support the community groups and low-income residents of the Downtown Eastside who are concerned about the flood of upscale development in their neighbourhood. The proposal for condominiums at
138 East Hastings, the Pantages Theater, is the latest step in an ongoing process of gentrification and displacement that has made life increasingly difficult for many of our region’s poorest citizens.

Given Vancouver’s escalating property market, it is easy to mistakenly view the developer’s proposal for one-bedroom units at the $227,000 price point as a good thing for housing affordability. If this development were proposed for Kerrisdale or Shaughnessy, then it should indeed be welcomed as an opportunity for affordable entry-level ownership. But this proposal is steps away from Main and Hastings, a part of the city that has long been stigmatized in regional, national, and even international press coverage and policy debate. At this location, a proposal for 79 condominium units is raw, hardcore gentrification, with a minimal token provision of 18 social housing units. If this development proceeds, it will follow the pattern that is familiar in Vancouver and so many other cities: lucrative profits for developers and wealthy and aspiring-to-be-wealthy property owners, and worsening housing affordability pressures for those least able to pay for the costs of living in a landscape of leveraged, speculative investment.

In hundreds of cities around the world, a common tactic used to speed the gentrification process is to claim that a particular neighbourhood is a blighted, run-down slum that needs new investment for a “renaissance” or “revitalization.” This language implies of course, that the neighbourhood as it currently exists is somehow not vital, not alive. In this case, the developer has been particularly clear and concise, calling the area a “dead zone.” Thousands of people live in this area. They are not dead. They deserve dignity and respect. It is highly offensive to denigrate a community in order to justify private profit, gentrification, and displacement, and doing so betrays an assumption that some lives are worth paying attention to, while others are not. The developer seems genuinely concerned about the lives of certain people who see the area as a “dead zone,” paying close attention to the needs and concerns of the “target market” of potential buyers: “It’s a vibrant and dynamic community and people would like to live there, but nothing’s available for them.” In Vancouver’s expensive market, it is understandable to lament that “nothing’s available” for those wishing to buy a one-bedroom condo for $227,000. But let’s not
forget about the citizens of the Downtown Eastside who are living on $1,200 a month or less. These citizens are too busy working to survive; they don’t have time to worry that they may never get a chance to buy a condo, to get on the property price escalator and enjoy all the tax-favored capital gains given to the wealthy and middle classes. The lives of low-income renters matter just as much as the lives of wealthy and middle class property owners.

The Downtown Eastside does indeed need investment — in true, permanent social housing, for seniors, Aboriginal people, women, the homeless, and all other low-income citizens of Vancouver’s low-income neighbourhood. The low income residents of the Downtown Eastside do not need more gentrification. They do not need more poor-bashing.

I do hope that the city staff respect the community response to this proposal, and recommend that Council reject this application. The City should negotiate with the developer to buy the site, and should leverage existing City resources with funds from senior governments to build 100% social housing on the site.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Elvin Wyly

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2 responses to “Letter from Chair of Urban Studies at UBC About Gentrification and Pantages

  1. Well said! Thank you for speaking the truth!

  2. Well said and thank you for speaking the truth!

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