The Downtown Eastside is Not for Developers Campaign received a message of support from author and activist Naomi Klein, who spoke at a gathering in front of the proposed Sequel 138 condo development project in the Downtown Eastside.
Demonstrators gathered at the Pantages Theatre site.
By Yolande Cole, December 1, 2011, Georgia Straight
Social housing advocates in the Downtown Eastside received a message of support from Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein today (December 1).
Klein spoke at a demonstration in front of the Pantages Theatre demolition site on East Hastings Street, where a proposed development has been drawing opposition from a coalition of Downtown Eastside organizations.
“Our message is very clear – we’re here to say no to condo development,” said organizer Harsha Walia, one of several speakers at the protest. “We’ve tried everything possible to make it clear to people that housing and homelessness in this neighbourhood is a crisis.”
Klein told demonstrators, which included Downtown Eastside residents and Occupy Vancouver participants, that she supported the demand of the action for no condo development in the low-income neighbourhood.
“It’s a clear demand, it’s a fair demand, it’s a moral demand,” she said.
The author also spoke about the evolution in the Occupy movement, which in Vancouver has morphed from a downtown encampment to a series of actions around the city. Today’s protest marked the second condo action this week, after protestors occupied the Paris Annex condo development on West Hastings Tuesday evening.
“I’ve been part of the Occupy movement and when I spoke to our friends in New York City, what I said about what they did that was so powerful, was in a country that is claiming to be broke, to not have the money to pay for basic services, they set up camp in the site of maximum abundance, that being Wall Street,” Klein said. “And they said this country isn’t broke, this country doesn’t have a budget crisis, it has a distribution crisis. The money is stuck at the top.”
“And I think it is so exciting and so moving that as the Occupy movement evolves and changes, now what we see is people occupying spaces at the site of maximum exclusion, the site of maximum inequality, to show the other side of that,” she continued. “And that’s what happening in this city, and that’s what we’re a part of today.”
Klein also described Vancouver as “one of the most unequal cities in North America”.
“It has the least affordable housing—not in Canada, not in North America—in the Commonwealth,” she said. “For housing to be affordable it is supposed to take three years of income to be able to buy a home. In Vancouver it takes nine and a half years.
“Gentrification doesn’t just drive housing prices up in this neighbourhood, it drives the cost of everything up in this neighbourhood, and it drives the cost of everything up across the city,” she added.
A coalition of Downtown Eastside groups have been opposing the proposed development near Main and Hastings, which they argue will displace low-income residents in the area through increased prices.
The proposed development for the site, Sequel 138, includes 79 one-bedroom condos to be sold at $227,000, 18 social-housing units and 2,500 square feet of arts space. The project is still going through the development permit process, according to the owner of the site, Marc Williams.
Williams argued that protestors seem to be “quote misinformed” on the project.
“The project is social housing, it is affordable home ownership, it does have an arts centre in it,” he told the Straight by phone. “So all the things that people are asking for, that’s what it has.”
The groups opposing condo development in the area have been calling for a moratorium on condo development in the Downtown Eastside and for the construction of social housing.
“They’re trying to displace this community further and further east, except this community has nowhere else to go,” said Walia. “This is the low-income community in Vancouver, this is the community that desperately needs housing”
“There will not be a single condo development that opens up in this neighbourhood without a fight,” she added.
Transcript of Naomi Klein talk (2:45 pm, Thursday, December 1, 2011), Downtown East Side, Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories
It’s such an honor to be here, to be standing with the power women of the Downtown East Side. I want to thank you for your courage. For all the fighting you’ve done over the years. For all the fighting during the Olympics. We appreciated it across the country. Thank you so much.
I’m here to support the demand of this action, which is for no condo development on the Downtown East Side. It’s a clear demand. It’s a fair demand. It’s a moral demand. I was privileged to attend the signing ceremony this morning that Harsha mentioned. I was encouraged to be there at the anniversary of the Save the Fraser Declaration saying no to Enbridge Pipelines and to tankers. And there were many speakers. Many chiefs spoke. And they talked about what this resource-extraction model means to them. A loss of culture, a loss of land. Displacement. That is what people are afraid of.
Where are people displaced to? They are displaced to here. And now they are being displaced again. That’s what we’re hearing. Being displaced again. True, as Harsha said, the real housing policy is prisons. Including private prisons. So that you can make some more money. Off of incarceration. After you make money off of gentrification. It’s all connected. It’s one story.
I did an interview today on a call-in radio show that will remain nameless. And one of the callers explained to me that there isn’t a need for an Occupy movement in Canada, because Canada doesn’t have the same problems as the United States. It doesn’t have these problems of inequality or politicians that are owned by corporations.
The action that took place here two days ago at Occupy Pantages puts the lie to that. It exposes that as a lie. I’ve been part of the Occupy movement and when I spoke to friends in New York City, what they did that was so powerful was … in a country that is claiming to be broke, to not have the money to pay for basic services, they set up camp in this site of maximum abundance. That being Wall Street. And they said this country isn’t broke. This country doesn’t have a budget crisis. It has a distribution crisis. The money is stuck at the top.
And I think it is so exciting and so moving that as the Occupy movement evolves and changes, now what we see is people occupying spaces at the site of maximum exclusion. The site of maximum inequality. To show the other side of that. And that’s what happening in this city. And that’s what we’re a part of today. And I’m very proud to be standing with you today.
This is one of the most unequal cities in North America. It has the least affordable housing — not in Canada, not in North America — in the Commonwealth. Most unaffordable housing in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia. For housing to be affordable it is supposed to take three years of income to be able to buy a home. In Vancouver it takes nine and a half years.
Gentrification doesn’t just drive housing prices up in this neighbourhood. It drives the cost of everything up in this neighbourhood. And it drives the cost of everything up across the city. And this is the model that is being put forward.
So I think it is really important to challenge this idea that Canada doesn’t have any problems, that we are so much better than the United States. This is the part of the country that nobody wants to look at. Right? We know that.
And you know, there was so much anger at Occupy Vancouver. Anger at seeing homelessness. Anger at seeing drug addiction and mental health problems. They just wanted to sweep it away. Bring it back to the Downtown East Side. That’s what they were saying. And now in the Downtown East Side they are trying to sweep it away from here.
This is a disgrace. This is a disgrace. And I’m proud to be with you, saying “No.” Drawing the line. There’s been a lot of drawing the lines today. As Harsha said, people said, we’re going to put a wall up. We’re not going to let your pipelines through. And I’m so proud to be with you today saying we’re not going to let your condo’s through either.
Can I say something to Mark Williams. Mark Williams has put up posters up and down the street. I don’t know if you saw them. Saying “Welcome Naomi Klein, you can buy a copy of The Shock Doctrine for 61 dollars at Spartacus Books.” We called Spartacus Books a few minutes ago. They don’t have a copy of The Shock Doctrine, but they do have a copy of No Logo for 6 dollars. So I hope he doesn’t plan to mark up condominiums as much as he marked up my book. This is a business man not to be trusted. I would say to Mark Williams that he is acting as if this is a game. And he is playing with people’s lives. And he should be deeply ashamed of himself. This is not a game. This is survival.