Hundreds of residents and supporters of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood - already the poorest off-reserve postal code in Canada - rallied last Saturday against rising housing prices and out-of-control condominium development.
Organizers dropped a banner off the top of Pantages Theatre - now being demolished to make way for a condominium development - reading, "Developers control city hall."
Launching a boycott campaign against developers and businesses which organizers said do not respect the neighbourhood and are pushing low-income people out, the rally featured salsa dancing, street theatre, puppets, a jazz band, and traditional drumming. Many speakers railed against gentrification, a process in which poor residents are pushed out of their neighbourhoods by rising prices and encroaching high-end development.
"We want new homes for residents," said Bill, with the Carnegie Action Project, addressing the rally in front of the former Pantages Theatre, soon to be condominiums. "Gentrification means yuppies moving in and raising rents and pushing poor people out.
Theatre sketches targeted shoppers and diners in the nearby upscale Gastown neighbourhood.
"Look around - there's no affordable housing," Bill said. "Gentrification is hard on us, but it'll be hard on you as well. How's your appetite now?"
This year's annual rally ocurred the day after the tragic death of Regent Hotel resident Verna Simard, 50, who fell from the sixth floor in suspicious circumstances. Only days before, however, she had addressed a meeting of organizers fighting against housing cost increases, saying she wanted to become more involved in neighbourhood organizing. Elders offered prayers at the spot Simard fell, where a makeshift shrine of candles and cigarettes memorialized the respected community member whose death came nearly a year after a similar suspicious falling death from the same hotel. Simard was remembered throughout the march.
"It's a sad day that we're standing here today," said Kat Norris, a Salish member of the Indigenous Action Movement. "It breaks my heart.
"But look at us, we're all here. Things can change."
Many speakers pointed out the hypocrisy of the City of Vancouver claiming to prioritize affordable housing, while condominium development outstrips affordable housing creation by a factor of 11 to one, they said.
"People like to pretend things are getting better in the Downtown Eastside," said Harsha Walia, with the Power of Women group which organizes the annual women's housing march. "They are not."
David P. Ball's website is davidpball.net.
Read more from this author about housing and gentrification in the DTES on rabble.ca, as well as photos by organizer Ben Powless at his blog on rabble.ca, photos on the Vancouver Media Co-op by Murray Bush and Harjap Grewal, as well as a feature on the late Verna Simard by Dawn Paley on the Vancouver Media Co-op.