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Gentrification in Vancouver B.C.

Real estate giant and non profit collaborators invade Downtown Eastside with "inclusive" condos.
The gentrification plot thickens at 60 W. CORDOVA...

Real estate giant and non profit collaborators invade Downtown Eastside with "inclusive" condos.

by Stanislav Kupferschmidt

In a conference on "revitalization" last spring, Liz Evans, Executive Director and founder of the Portland Hotel Society was challenged by concerned residents of the Downtown Eastside over several PHS related issues. These included, the danger of PHS collaborating with private real estate and acting as a Trojan horse for gentrification, the lack of affordable units at Woodward's, and the overall dismal quality of supported housing offered by PHS. Her insulting response to the latter was, that "crumbs are better than nothing".

Well, now it seems that condos are better than crumbs, when it comes to housing her own workers. In what is being called "60 W.Cordova", a menacing partnership with real estate giant Westbank Corp, Habitat for Humanity, PHS, Vancity, and Ian Gillespie and Gregory Henriquez (the two guys who brought us the monstrous slap in the face that is Woodwards) the Downtown Eastside will now have "affordable condos". That's right, "affordable" condos.

The proposed 108 condo unit creation, just east of Woodwards, will begin selling units for $219,900 for a one bdrm and $299,900 for a two bdrm. To clarify: that's the starting price. Westbank Corp., the mastermind of the partnership, takes credit for having built over 11 million square feet of bourgeois, high end projects for the rich and powerful. The self identified "most active development company on the west side of North America", has built countless local sites of exclusion and gentrification including Woodwards, the monstrous Shangri-La, and the Fairmont. Their other past ventures in profit and displacement include retail shopping centers, and luxury condos and hotels that straddle not only Vancouver, but also Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto, and even Texas.[1]

It doesn't take much to see that there's no chance in hell that Downtown Eastside Residents, who live, work and struggle in this community will be proud condo owners of Westbank's 60 W. Cordova.

And, they're not intended to be, despite throwing out rhetoric such as "inclusivity" and "affordability" and marketing the project as being "about community" and one that will "fit in with the neighbors".[2] Eight of the said units will go to PHS for "community workers". Another four will go to Habitat for Humanity who will determine which family can afford to put a down payment for their ╝ of a $ million home. The remaining 96 units will be market housing. As stated in a previous interview, architect Ian Gillespie, blatantly stated "our objective was to continue the legacy we started at Woodward's".[3] It also seems that what makes these units "affordable" in Gillespie's eyes is "no parking lots", which will according to him "act as an automatic filter to keep out better-off households".[3]

To reiterate, no housing is proposed for people living in poverty below the low-income cut off line, which consists of about 70% of those living in the Downtown Eastside subsisting on any level of social income assistance, or working at minimum wage. The average low income family lives on about $9,600 below the poverty line per year.[4] When news of this project came to light, the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood Council and Carnegie Community Action Project clearly communicated their opposition and insisted that all partners ought to oppose the project. They also made known their opposition to their collaboration with developers overall. Obviously, the project went ahead, with no one responding, including Anneke Rees, CEO of Habitat for Humanity, who quickly defends this latest real estate invasion of the Downtown Eastside, as designated for another class of poor folks, "low income households trying to get a foothold in Vancouver's real estate market". Indeed such disregard and obliviousness indicates the mentality of a colonizer moving into the Downtown Eastside, with a sheer refusal to involve or address the needs and interests of those current residents most affected. The irony of this is unforgiving, as Habitat so frequently espouses that they work "with the community to offer solutions to families desperately in need".

Indeed, 60 W. Cordova will inevitably do anything but serve its "neighbours" as it claims to. An influx of 108 new home owners to the Downtown Eastside will take the ripple effects of gentrification that much further east. One needs to but examine the atrocity that is Woodwards and the detrimental effects on the community since its inception, to begin to comprehend how this latest development will solidify the process of Downtown Eastside gentrification.

Habitat for Humanity Canada: No stranger to collaborating with dirty business

Westbank's selection to partner with Habitat is clever to say the least. Habitat frequently brags of their brand name value, shamelessly quoting that the American Brands Council stated "When you hear or read the name, you think of people helping people. And, don't you ask yourself: 'What am I doing to help?".[5] At their AGM in 2005, Habitat Canada boasted that their "brand name" was worth nearly $2 billion. Certainly Westbank, couldn't wait to jump at the opportunity to market their new development with the aid of such a "non-profit" brand name.

But partnerships such as these are not foreign for Habitat Canada. Beginning in 2005 they began a partnership with Alcan, the ethically empty aluminum giant. In doing so, Habitat nodded its head to Alcan's then current forced displacement of some 60,000 villagers of Kashipur, India.[6] In addition to security personnel beating and killing several demonstrators from Kashipur who stood up to the giant for their ancestral homes, Alcan endeavored to steal their land, destroy their livelihoods and culture, potentially contaminate their food and water sources and obliterate their spiritual sites.[7]

Despite strong concerns expressed by some members over partnering with such a corporation, Habitat went ahead and ostracized opposition, taking no stance against Alcan's actions, undermining the lives of the people of Kashipur. As a result, Alcan was able to brandish their name next to Habitat's at conferences, on websites, and any schmoozing shin digs. In exchange Habitat received a hefty load of Alcan-human-rights-violating-dollars, while Alcan got their PR game on.

From Kashipur, India to Vancouver, Unceeded Coast Salish Territory

In Kashipur, India, we witness a corporate giant trying to steal land from its people with brute force with neither their opposition nor needs or interests being met. Alcan robs and displaces these people. Alcan looks to partnering with the likes of Habitat to help build homes for "Canadian families living in poverty", while simultaneously forcing 60,000 Indigenous villagers from their homes and into a state of utter homelessness. Until 2009, Alcan steals land from these villagers, to stick their filthy technology into the ground and start mining and refining, killing several villagers in the process.

In Vancouver, we witness a clear class war on residents of the Downtown Eastside on a daily basis. Similarly to Alcan, Westbank corp. brutally displaces people through gentrification. Secondly, seeking to gain back credibility, Westbank looks to partner with Habitat and PHS, to build "affordable condos" while simultaneously destroying low income communities across Vancouver, taking credit as lead gentrifer or "Canada's premier developer".[1] And last, gentrifiers like Westbank, in essence mine for gold in our communities, building their foundations where ever they can, unleashing their cycle of surveillance, harassment and intimidation on the former residents of that community, leading to alienation and eventual displacement.

'Home Washing'

This signals what we could appropriately refer to as 'home washing'. Real estate giants like Westbank corp, whose entire basis and existence relies on displacement, partner with the likes of Habitat and PHS in an attempt both gain some front of legitimate entry into a neighborhood and control backlash. This is the same kind of detrimental green washing we've witnessed with corporate giants and their partnerships with environmental organizations. One needs to but look at the Green Peace sell out to the Boreal Forrest agreement where an NGO seeks influence with a corporate giant (whose entire basis and existence relies on environmental degradation), and as a result, huge compromises are made and future efforts for change by those most affected by their actions are paralyzed.

The Housing Crisis is Now

There are well over 13,000 individuals and families on the BC Housing wait list for social housing, with 70% of residents in the Downtown Eastside, forced to live in poverty on income assistance, or working at minimum wage. [8] Every 11 days someone from our community dies from being homeless due to sheer lack of social housing [9]. Clearly, at this point, any condo is an unaffordable condo.

And let's also reiterate for Liz Evans, that when the community told her "crumbs aren't good enough" they did in no way imply she should build condos, and house her PHS workers in them under the guise of "affordability" or "inclusivity".

And to Habitat, who claim to work to better the "1 million Canadians [who] choose between paying for rent or food", bringing in 96 new condo owners and 4 lower income families striving to become Vancouver home owners to the Downtown Eastside, won't offset the lost opportunity to house the multitude of people who will walk, work, struggle and sleep below that condo, not to mention all the other devastating impacts that go along with what this condo development will trigger.

One thing is clear, people are struggling to survive, rents are ever-increasing, and condo development is outpacing social housing at a rate of 3 to 1. Gentrifiers are on the edge of serious confrontation and struggling to portray a more humane fašade in their exploits. This Trojan horse smells of things to come. Let's make sure we rip the mask off their dirty PR game before this becomes standard operation.

For your convenience, direct any concerns or mail suspicious packages* if you should so please, to any of the following:

Westbank Projects Corp.
Suite 501 -1067 W Cordova St.
T: 604-685-8986

Anneke Rees, CEO
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Vancouver
69 W 69th Avenue
Vancouver,BC V5X 2W6
T: (604) 681-5618

Liz Evans, executive director
Portland Hotel Society - 837 Keefer Street
T: (604) 251-5393

[*DISCLAIMER: for reactionary alarmists, overly imaginative minds and others, "suspicious packages" is a reference to a direct action carried out by CCAP, who confronted Terri Hui (CEO of Concord Pacific) with a welcome wagon to the DTES neighbourhood. Amongst the gifts for Hui, were bed bugs and other criters exposing the reality of housing for so many Downtown Eastside residents. The action followed Concord's application to build a $500 milllion condo development at 58 W. Hastings, site of last February's Tent Village.]


[1]Westbank Projects Corporation. "Company Profile".  http://www.westbankcorp.com/#/profile (Sept 30, 2010).
[2] 60 W. Cordova St.  http://60wcordova.com/ (Sept 30, 2010)
[3] Bula, Frances. "Developer Experiments with affordable condos near downtown Vancouver". Globe and Mail. July 25, 2010.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/developer-...
[4] Campaign 2000 Report Card on Child Poverty 2009.
[5] Habitat for Humanity. "Habitat for Humanity one of America's greatest brands."  http://www.habitat.org/newsroom/2004archive/insitedoc007926.aspx
[6] Mining Watch Canada. "Alcan Juggling with the Future of Marginalized people in India": Three Villagers Already killed by Violent Repression".
[7] Mining Watch Canada. "Police Violence Against the People of Kashipur Must Stop."  http://www.miningwatch.ca/en/police-violence-against-peoples-kashipur-mu...
[8] Johal, Am. "Unpacking the housing numbers: interview with CCPA's Seth Klien." Rabble.ca  http://www.rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/amjohal/2010/09/unpacking-housing-nu...
[9] Pablo, Carlito. "Activist Says BC should be building housing, not Downtown Eastside propaganda centre". The Straight.  http://www.straight.com/article-284278/vancouver/activist-says-bc-should...