BRITISH COLUMBIA

'Squat The Empties' Tweet In Vancouver Just 'A Dream'

03/27/2013 01:18 EDT | Updated 05/26/2013 05:12 EDT
A Twitter post from an advocate for the homeless hints that a takeover of empty condominium units could be a next step in the fight against gentrification in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Community activist Ivan Drury tweeted, "Building a ghost city #SquatTheEmpties" during a development permit board meeting Monday night at Vancouver City Hall, where a permit for a controversial condominium project at 557 East Cordova St. was approved.

That prompted a flurry of responses on social media, with some saying recent protests in the neighbourhood are going to get out of hand.

Communications consultant Bob Ranford tweeted: "Should property owners be on guard for illegal acts?"

But Drury said the tweet and the hashtag "#SquatTheEmpties" was more of "a dream" than a call to action.

He said it was partly in response to news of a recent study that found many condo owners aren't using, or even renting, their downtown units.

"The very idea that buildings can sit empty while people are on the streets is an absurd kind of systemic violence, and I wish that our priorities were opposite and we saw the lives of people as more important than the investments of property owners and developers," Drury said.

Drury made the comment in response to plans for the 557 East Cordova project, which is made up largely of market condominiums and just five social housing units.

Developer Daniel Boffo said the development was not taking away from the community, but instead is adding to it.

But Drury and others oppose the development, arguing that five social housing units aren't enough and that the new condominiums will drive up rents in the immediate area.

Developer and urban commentator Michael Geller said a lot of people feel the city and community have been tolerant of protests so far. He also said he hopes the protest actions don't turn into squatters occupying condos.

Geller said the protests have, at least, started a wider conversation about the neighbourhood and have gotten people talking about the neighbourhood rather than ignoring it.

"I think the public is becoming increasingly disgusted … that we are spending so much money down here with so little benefit," he said.

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Downtown Eastside, Vancouver