Sequel 138 Decision and Process Ignores DTES Low Income Community
By Greg Williams, DTES Not for Developers Coalition & UBC Social Justice Centre
Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories – Last Monday, protected by a phalanx of 21 uniformed police officers, the City of Vancouver’s Development Permit board ignored over six hours of testimony given by members and allies of the DTES low-income community and approved condos at the Pantages site on the 100-block of East Hastings.The Decision
The decision to approve Sequel 138 is the latest stage of an all-out assault by developers on the DTES low-income community, assisted by city bureaucrats at every stage of the process. As VANDU member Rick Alexander said at a debrief the next day, “this decision opens the door for developers all over the Oppenheimer District.”
Two weeks before the permit board hearing, at a press event and rally in the Carnegie Theater, over a dozen organizations condemned the project for a host of reasons including the threat it posed to harm reduction, the depletion of low income housing stock due to rent increases, the pressure it would put on shelters, community spaces and social services, as well as the culture of stigma that higher income condo buyers would bring to the neighborhood.
The Panel’s Composition
Richard Marquez of Social Workers for Social Justice and the DTES Neighbourhood Council (DNC) noted that the Permit Board was an “all white jury,” composed entirely of middle-to-high-income white settlers. Moreover, almost every member of the Advisory Panel, a portion of the board which, while made up of non-voting members is highly influential in the board’s decisions, was in some way linked to the development industry. John Stovell, one particularly important member of the panel, is linked to Olympic Village developer Reliant Properties and, as many community members pointed out last Monday, is one of the largest property owners in the DTES. And Foad Raffi, who appeared in the media criticizing the DTES Not for Developers Coalition action at the Pantages hearing, is the architect of the condo project just around the corner at 189 Keefer, which appeared before the same board just two weeks later.
Several members of condo developer Mark Williams’ staff were even allowed to speak as “members of the public.” A handful of other speakers from outside the DTES were allowed to make blatantly hateful and poor-bashing presentations, even though low-income speakers were asked to “stick to the merits of the project” when they attempted to criticize Williams’ conduct.
Community members also noted the huge amount of hate speech coming from supporters of Sequel 138 during the hearing. Fern Jeffries of the False Creek Residents Association was particularly noted for stereotyping DTES residents as dangerous, criminals and accusing the DNC Street Market of marketing “stolen goods.” When low-income speakers called into question Mark Williams’ record for fraud and tax evasion in MacKenzie and the poor-bashing rhetoric associated with his development, however, they were asked to “stick to the merits of the application.” In addition to demonstrating the level of bias among members of the permit board, this pattern also showed a level of tolerance for open hostility towards low income people that is truly disturbing coming from a municipal agency.
At the end of the night, after the permit board had made its decision, several community members symbolically turned over chairs in the meeting room, making a statement that the board was apparently disinterested in the members of the public who had been sitting in them. Herb Varley, co-President of the DNC, told the board “this is not the last time you will see me.” The next day, many community members expressed their determination to continue resisting Sequel 138, even if it does have a development permit. Roland Clark of the DNC noted that “Based on last night I’m now convinced that the only way forward is civil disobedience and we need to plan that.”
On Friday, 27 April, the DTES Not for Developers Coalition held an initial discussion on the tactic of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience. The coalition is meeting every Wednesday at 11am on the 3rd floor of the Carnegie Centre to plan upcoming actions. Stay tuned for more resistance to come! This fight is not over!