British Columbia

Gentrification report calls out dozens of DTES businesses

A new report by the Carnegie Community Action Project singles out dozens of Downtown Eastside businesses where the group claims low-income people aren't welcome.

Carnegie Community Action Project mapped out businesses where low-income people don't feel welcome

Erica Grant uses a sign to show her opposition to gentrification in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Erica Grant, 54, has been homeless for several months. This week, she's moving into a room at The Savoy, a Downtown Eastside hotel in Vancouver.

The room became available after the former tenant was shot to death last month.

Grant worked as a nurse for most of her life, but has fallen on harder times. She now gets by on disability assistance.

"[I] moved down here because of affordable housing. But I didn't know what I was walking into when I came down here, either," said Grant. "A different way of life."

Grant says she doesn't go to many of the newer café​s and restaurants in the neighbourhood, because she just can't afford to pay the upscale prices.

But three months ago, shortly after cashing her assistance cheque, she tried to treat herself at a pub near Abbott Street and Hastings Street.

"They wouldn't serve us," said Grant. "We sat there for, like, an hour and we kept telling them we were ready to order. We wanted to have a brunch there, but they wouldn't serve us, so we got up and we walked out."

According to organizers with the Carnegie Community Action Project, that sort of treatment for the neighbourhood's low-income residents is common.

'Retail gentrification'

On Wednesday, the group released a report on gentrification in the area titled, "We Are Too Poor to Afford Anything."

"Retail gentrification is destroying the community," said CCAP coordinator Maria Wallstam.

"It's contributing to the loss of low-income housing, and it's pushing up rents and land values, and these places are also pushing out low-income stores that serve low-income people here in the area."

CCAP coordinator Maria Wallstam holds a map of businesses in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside that she calls "gentrifying retail" and "zones of exclusion." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

'Zones of exclusion'

The report uses the term "zones of exclusion" to describe businesses with increased security and surveillance, and in which low-income people aren't able to afford to eat, drink or shop.

Dalina opened in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in December, 2016. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The report mapped out 156 businesses that CCAP calls "gentrifying retail" and "zones of inclusion." It singled out Pidgin Restaurant as "the winner" of the "worst zones of exclusion."

Pidgin owner Brandon Grossutti said he agrees with a lot of what CCAP does, but decries the idea that some types of businesses shouldn't be allowed in an area.

"There's a lot of issues that need to be raised, you know the ageing population — especially in Chinatown. There's a need for more dignified social housing in the neighbourhood," said Grossutti.

'Systemic issues'

"[CCAP focuses] on retail gentrification, whereas they should be focusing on the systemic issues around trauma, mental health and addiction that have created a lot of the issues in the Downtown Eastside," he said, adding that he personally administered naloxone four times to save people who were overdosing near his restaurant.

"I know where I am. You know, my dad suffered with addiction down here for a long time. I know where I am, I know what this issue is about," said Grossutti.

Grossutti agrees with CCAP that disability assistance and welfare rates need to increase to help those struggling to survive in the Downtown Eastside, but he stops short of some of the recommendations in the report, including the one calling on the City of Vancouver to step in to stop more upscale businesses from opening in the community.

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker


Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at