A tent city has sprung up in Surrey’s downtown following a “We don’t need more condos” rally that was staged roughly one week after Surrey council gave its approval to yet another high-rise tower project for Whalley.
On June 15 council gave the nod to a 31-storey high-rise residential tower proposal featuring 234 dwelling units, at 10440 Whalley Blvd. Two weeks prior, council also gave the okay to a separate project that will see three high-rise three high‐rise buildings and two low‐rise buildings at 13584-104 Avenue and 13550-105 Avenue with the first phase consisting of a 40‐storey residential tower with commercial space on the ground floor to be built on a lot where low-income tenants of Nickerson Place modular housing live.
A public hearing into that project hear accusations that the city has declared “a war on the poor” by activists who say low-income and homeless people are being driven out of the city core to make way for luxury condos for the well-heeled.
Prior to council’s approval of the latest application, Councillor Steven Pettigrew noted that “many, many thousands” of new people are being drawn to live downtown but there are not enough schools to accommodate the influx.
According to a city planning report, the Surrey School District projects that the 31-storey tower alone will mean 24 more students at Forsyth Road Elementary School and 17 more at Kwantlen Park Secondary School.
The developer advised council the dwelling units are expected to be ready for occupancy by December 2023.
“The school system is overburdened and we continue to put in more and more portables,” Pettigrew said.“We’re putting thousands upon thousands of people in the downtown core, but we’re falling behind in infrastructure.
“If we cannot provide the infrastructure for them, such as rec centres, police and firefighters, then maybe we should consider pausing – that probably rings a bell with people, pausing development – until we get caught up,” he said. “I think we are setting our city up for failure by not addressing these infrastructure needs.”
Meantime, roughly 60 people participated in a rally on 135A Street near 108th Avenue on Saturday afternoon against gentrification in the city centre and the building of more condominiums there.
“Pretty good for a rainy day,” said Dave Diewert, of the Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism
A press release from that organization says Saturday’s rally was staged “against Mayor McCallum’s plan to push low-income residents out of the neighbourhood and hand Whalley over to the rich.”
In 2018 the City of Surrey cleared a sprawling tent city from 135A Street. “The real reason they cleared the strip was to ‘beautify’ the neighbourhood,” said Wanda Stopa, an advocate for the homeless. “Two years later, we’re still homeless, still policed, still dying. But we’re still here. We’re still fighting.”
On the heels of Saturday’s rally, yet another tent city – this one dubbed “Whalley World Resort, Tent City 2” – was pitched at 10716 135A St. in a city-owned lot beside a bottle depot.
“I pitched the first tent up just as the rally was ending,” Wanda Stopa said Monday. “People are being kicked out of the modulars and the shelters, so they go into the bush and set up camps or wherever.
“So a group of us got together and took over a city lot that nobody uses,” she said. “We’re not bugging anybody. We decided to pitch our tents and just stand our ground.”
By Monday 14 tents had been set up, but from the outset the encampment’s future was precarious.
“They’re trying to move us right now. We’re refusing due to the fact there’s nowhere to go, the shelters are all full, the modulars are getting closed down so why go there? There’s nowhere to go, like it’s just impossible for us to find somewhere to go. We’re not harming anybody, we’re not bugging anybody.”
Rob Costanzo, Surrey’s general manager of corporate services, told the Now-Leader by email Monday that the City of Surrey “is dealing with an illegal encampment that has just set up within the last day. Further, we are concerned with the lack of physical distancing taking place on this site and the inherent risk it poses to public health during the COVID19 pandemic. Of the roughly 14 tents at this site, staff estimate that approximately one third of the individuals are homeless. The City is working with BC Housing and our social services partners to find housing and shelter for these individuals.”
Still, the occupants have vowed to dig in.
“I’m tired of them pushing us around, treating us like we don’t exist,” Stopa said. “They can’t push us around if we stand together.”
Isabel Krupp, a Red Braid organizer, said at press time Tuesday that bylaw officers had not yet made a move to remove the encampment.
“Whalley World tent city is the street community’s stand against displacement,” she declared.