Downtown Eastside residents march in housing protest on eve of new Vancouver mayor's inauguration

Dozens of people marched on East Hastings Street in Vancouver on Sunday, some carrying tents, to draw attention to the lack of appropriate housing in the city. (Yasmin Gandham/CBC News - image credit)
Dozens of people marched on East Hastings Street in Vancouver on Sunday, some carrying tents, to draw attention to the lack of appropriate housing in the city. (Yasmin Gandham/CBC News - image credit)

On the eve of Ken Sim's inauguration as Vancouver mayor, residents living in tents and low-income renters from the city's poorest neighbourhood marched to demand housing rights.

Dozens of people took to the streets of the Downtown Eastside on Sunday carrying signs that read, "housing is a human right, "no displacement" and "eviction kills."

Participants said they wanted to draw attention to the lack of appropriate housing in Vancouver for low-income people.

Aeio Marion said the single-room occupancy (SRO) accommodation where he has been living has had a broken window for more than two months and that water in the building wasn't clean.

"I feel like they are just trying to kill us off and putting us in old buildings which they should just tear down and remodel or renovate and make sure everything is all up to code like the fire sprinklers, the alarms, the water — make sure there is clean water for everybody," he said from Oppenheimer Park on Sunday, where the marchers gathered.

Yasmin Gandham/CBC News
Yasmin Gandham/CBC News

Marion and others at the march spoke about the stress and anxiety over fires that have damaged or destroyed several SRO buildings over the past year, and the city's ongoing efforts to move people living in tents off Hastings Street.

"Where are the people on the Downtown Eastside going to go if there's no proper housing for anybody?" Marion said.

Sim will be sworn in along with a new council on Monday, following the civic elections on Oct. 15.

He has promised to speed up the city's permitting process and pre-approve some housing designs.

His "3x3x3x1" permit approval system is designed to approve renovation applications within three days, townhouses and single-family homes within three weeks, and multi-family and mid-rise buildings within three months.

During the campaign, his ABC Vancouver party also promised to double the number of co-op units in the city over the next four years.

Participants at the march were concerned that despite the housing promises, the priority for Sim and his party would be their other campaign promise of hiring an additional 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses.

"He's going to spend so much money investing in cops. Why can't he put that money toward housing?" said Marion.

March organizer Ryan Sudds also wasn't confident in the new council's ability to deliver on housing.

"We need something to change. We need something better. We aren't exactly optimistic that this council is going to bring that so we are out here today to put pressure and start the fight to get better housing and better safety," Sudds said.

This week, demolition is expected to begin of the Balmoral Hotel, one of the derelict SRO buildings the city bought in 2020. The plan is to revitalize the property — along with the Regent Hotel, another SRO the city took ownership of — into housing that helps meet the needs of the community.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Stewart Prest, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, says an option for Sim and his council is to continue and build on this work.

"Perhaps purchase units currently held privately, but then once units are under city control, really investing the resources necessary to ensure ... livable conditions that can really help those who need that help to find a more sustainable living situation," he said.

Prest added there is only so much the city can do on its own with local budgets. He said there would be a requirement to lobby both the province and Ottawa to help.

It's something re-elected Green Coun. Pete Fry hopes will be a priority for Sim and the new council.

"Provide some new leadership and direction and really push B.C. Housing to step up with solutions that are more immediate, because there is just not housing for folks to go in right now," Fry said.