“It’s a knife in the heart of our community,” said Wendy Pedersen, an independent organizer, about the newly opened Cuchillo (means “knife” in Spanish) restaurant at 261 Powell St. “Places like this cause a chain reaction and low-income residents are pushed out, priced out and policed out. We’ll be here daily until this restaurant closes.”
Pedersen opened a spirited news conference with about 50 local residents and supporters who want gentrification stopped until the housing that low-income people need is in place. “We aren’t a group,” said Pedersen. “We’re a network of people rising up in this neighbourhood.” About 850 people in the DTES are homeless and about 5000 more live in single rooms with no bathroom or kitchen and numerous pests, and are threatened by displacement.
Formerly Homeless Dave, costumed as the Anti-Displacement Avenger, told the press, “We don’t have much time.The city is about to make policies to open up the DTES to more high-end businesses and homes.We are demanding zero displacement in the Downtown Eastside.This is hostile territory for fancy restaurants and condos until we have the housing we need.”
Diane Tobin of the Women’s Action Group talked about the “wonderful things this community has done.We brought the AIDS rate down. The world won’t be coming down here to learn from us when it’s all gentrifying restaurants.”
Tami Starlight, dressed as the Mexican super hero Super Barrio, with a golden cape with embroidered cockroaches, told the crowd, “the fancy restaurants are here to displace the low-income community, but Super Barrio says, ‘over my dead body.’”
Roger, a resident living above Cuchillo in the York Hotel was supposed to speak at the media conference but didn’t show up. He gets $375/month for rent on welfare and got evicted, for “not keeping up with his [$475/month] rent.” Roger was given $40 spending money, told he would not be evicted and when the media arrived, he was eating a free dinner at Save-on-Meats with Dave, the York Hotel manager. The morning after, Roger was evicted.
At the media conference, Nicholas Ellan explained that the owner of the building that the restaurant is in is “serial, notorious evicter and upscaler Stephen Lippman.His business model is specifically designed to avoid laws that protect housing.We’re asking him to bring all his rents back to $375.”
“It doesn’t matter where you live in the city,” Ellan went on.“If you are a renter, this affects you. Don’t come down here and dine.”
“The Cuchillo building co-owner told us he likes gentrification,” said formerly Homeless Dave, the Anti-Displacement Avenger. “He said this neighbourhood is going to be the most expensive neighbourhood in the city and we should be ‘grateful’ that they are cleaning up our neighbourhood.Our message to gentrifying business and property owners is ‘you are not welcome in our neighbourhood until we have 100% housing and security for low-income people.”