Spoof of viral DTES micro-suite ad from Toronto a ‘clapback against gentrification’

A funny video spoofing the viral TikTok ad for a $2,000-per-month micro suite in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has a not-so-funny point to make, according to its co-creator.

Trey Helten said he was inspired to make the video as a “clapback against gentrification” in the city’s poorest neighbourhood, where development continues to displace some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable citizens.

“[The TikTok ad] made me really, really irritated. And a little pissed off,” said Helten. “It’s wrong. There is no vacancy control or protection on SROs (single room occupancy) and low-income housing.” 

The TikTok ad, produced by a Toronto marketing company, was widely criticized as being tone-deaf and misleading. Set to the theme music from Sex and the City, it featured a young woman touting the renovated 200-square-foot unit in the Lotus Hotel, a private SRO building that was recently sold.

Helten’s response video uses similarly jaunty music and shots of him walking through various DTES scenes: an alley, a burned-out building, a communal SRO bathroom and kitchen, a tiny suite with a bedbug-infested mattress.

Smiling, he delivers devastating lines that riff on the TikTok ad’s glibness.

“This is a naloxone kit,” he says at one point. “Learn how to use one because you’re going to be dealing with a lot of death and overdoses.” 

The video was co-produced by Nathaniel Canuel and has cameos by DTES artists Smokey Devil and Edgar Allan Rossetti.

“The video was made by people from the Downtown Eastside for the people of the Downtown Eastside,” said Helten. “The purpose wasn’t to further negative stereotypes. It was to make fun of that video from Toronto and also to give some context.”

Vancouver’s ongoing housing crisis has seen vacancy rates hovering around one per cent or lower for a prolonged period of time while the average rate for a one-bedroom apartment has climbed to $3,000 per month.

Helten says it’s not uncommon for developers marketing units in the DTES internationally to be less than forthcoming about the neighbourhood.

“For anyone thinking about moving to the Downtown Eastside, don’t. Don’t move into the neighbourhood and start complaining that it’s awful,” he said.

Multiple tenants of the Lotus confirmed to CBC they were offered $15,000 to vacate their units so that renovations can happen. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Lotus historically housed people at costs close to shelter rates, around $575 per month until recently, according to Helten. 

Toronto-based company Forum Asset Management purchased the building less than two years ago and has offered tenants in unrenovated units $15,000 to leave.

Last year, the B.C. Supreme Court struck down an attempt by the city to institute vacancy controls on SRO properties, which would mandate that rents for incoming tenants would stay at the same rate as the previous one. The decision is being challenged.  

“I really hope the B.C. Supreme Court reverses their decision in the appeals process,” said Helten.

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