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Here’s the case for those saying the Olympics accelerate housing problems

September 10th, 2009 · 12 Comments

I got this note from Am Johal yesterday, who has been working for years on housing issues related to the Olympics. I leave it largely to him to make the case here, except to make the note to him and Helesia and others who have responded to my request for evidence by saying it’s subtle and often untraceable — once again, that leaves people like me in the position of asking you to accept your claims on the basis of “it must be happening even though we can’t prove it.”

To me, that’s just as frustrating as being asked to believe the Olympics boosters who say that the Games are definitely going to improve the B.C. economy. (And they don’t seem to have any more money for gathering evidence than the Olympics housing people.) No, they can’t separate out the Olympics from Vancouver’s general economics trends. No, they don’t have any hard statistics, just projections and assumptions. But I should believe it anyway.

Anyway, enough from me blah blah blah. Here’s what Am has to say.

Hi Frances,

Just saw your blog posting.

The issue of evictions isn’t specific to the Olympics at this stage, but in some cases it is certainly a contributing factor – it goes along with the process of the inner-city inclusive commitment statement.  The point of negotiating these commitments was to stop these conversions from happening while the Olympics were being organized.

With the downtown peninsula already being built up, there was already development and gentrification pressures headed towards the Downtown Eastside with or without the Olympics.  As Dr. Kris Olds said while he was here, mega-events tend to exacerbate and amplify existing development paths, particularly when weak tenancy rules are in place.

As well, the Impact on Communities Coalition’s 2nd Interim Report Card is available here:

The UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Country Report on Canada also references worries around evictions – it can be accessed from

On the issue of evictions, the independent advocate and international housing expert states:

“While the Special Rapporteur welcomes the VANOC commitment, he remains concerned by information he received on the impact that the preparation for the Olympics could have on low-income housing residents, and particularly on low-income single resident hotel units situated in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood. Non-Governmental organizations estimated that since July 2003, Vancouver has lost more than 1400 low-income housing units which have been renovated or converted. Although the Olympics cannot be considered as the unique cause, the real estate speculation generated by the Olympics would appear to be a contributing cause.”

I am attaching the number of SRO conversions since the Olympic bid process began – which is about 1,150 right now – the number used to be above 1400 but has gone down due to the re-opening of some of the provincially owned hotels.  This was put together by the Pivot Legal Society.  No, these weren’t all as a result of the Olympics, nor is that our argument, but the property boom post Olympic bid did lead to massive speculation at that time.  It would be up to urban geographers like Elvin Wyly at UBC to determine whether those evictions should be called ‘Olympic’ related or not, but property values did jump from $500,000 to over $2 million for a number of SRO’s in a relatively short period of time.  The Olympics were not the only cause, but they still played a contributing factor.

TRAC could probably cite about a dozen cases that they have been involved in specific to the Olympics.  I am expecting many more evictions come December, January and February.  In my view, there will be hundreds of evictions.

I realize this isn’t the smoking gun your looking for, but the reality is much more nuanced than that.  Specific Olympic related evictions will happen in December, January and February as I mentioned.  Our tenancy rules are hopelessly out of touch.  That’s what the media in this city should be focussing on.  Furthermore, the cities attempts to regulate it in the way that they have, is incredibly difficult to enforce.  Ultimately, it is the province that has created this mess.

No one is keeping track of evictions that happen as a result of tenancy loopholes because they are considered ‘legal’ – the RTB, the City and NGO’s aren’t funded to keep track.  Many more go unreported – most people don’t have the time to go through the appeal process.

For a comprehensive comparative analysis, please check out the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions website to look at the impacts of Olympics on previous host cities:

We certainly would be keeping better statistics, if there actually was a funded watchdog group in place.  Unfortunately, it’s just another broken promise by VANOC and its government partners.

I realize it’s easier to misframe those of us who have been raising housing and civil liberties issues since 2001 and simply call us all anti-Olympics, but the reality is far more complicated than that.  I don’t place alot of faith in BC media after doing advocacy work around this issue – the way that many of us have been marginalized and presented as fringe elements of society for simply being critical of the Olympics.

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  • David

    Frances I really appreciate what you are asking for and we all want evidence so that we can track our progress or lack thereof. If the numbers are not available then perhaps look at a proxy – the number of homeless could be used a graph with numbers over a couple years paints a horrendous picture. Despite some very well-intentioned interventions we know that the numbers of homeless are going up and that no government in power wants these numbers to be known or available.

  • WW

    I still want to see “Olympic-related evictions” — if they are in SROs how would they be Olympic-related as no guests to the Games will be staying there.

    If it’s in regular apartment buildings or basement suites, the tenancy act has been beefed up. By the time you provide a tenant 90 days notice and one month’s free rent (or cash), and then invest the time to find an Olympic user and re-let the place after, and invest the money to provide a furnished space (can’t rent to Olympic guests unfurnished), and do any upgrades, it’s not economically viable from a landlords perspective. Cheaper and easier to leave the existing tenants in place.

    As I said in another post, the only Olympic-related landlord activity that I’ve seen happening in a couple cases is not re-renting a suite when a tenant gives notice to move out in the next few months in order to rent it as Olympic-accommodation.

  • “if they are in SROs how would they be Olympic-related as no guests to the Games will be staying there.”

    A number of people have made this point, and I think it is very relevant to the search for the elusive statistical “proof” of DTES Olympics-related renovictions. Well-heeled Olympic guests who have dropped thousands on tickets and airfare aren’t likely to cheap-out and risk staying in a freshly painted SRO on East Hastings, no matter how inviting the new colour scheme is. Unlike Expo – which happened in the summer at a time when gas was cheap and gramps and grandma could drive a Winnebago up from Texas without having to cash out their pensions to pay for it – these Olympics are not even on the radar for the vast majority of families or retirees earning middle or low incomes. And in 1986, the DTES was still quite a vibrant (if somewhat notorious) place where weekenders on a budget could rent a room without being called reckless and stupid. It was not nearly the cesspool it has devolved into circa 2010. If you take a look at the thousands! of (unrented) homes up for rent on the Olympics rental websites, you won’t find a single SRO.

    Which brings me back to my comment on the previous post noting that the cumulative effect of the installation of fences all over the DTES – whatever purpose they serve – has caused a very noticeable displacement of street people, and creates a physical and psychological barrier to free congress in DTES public spaces. The result is no different than the introduction of barbed wire fences onto the open cattle ranges of Texas circa 1860.

    NFRM and Frances and others will predictably dismiss this as an irrelevant observation due to the narrow confines set to define proof of Olympics-related displacement. But renovictions are by no means the only relevant barometer of the effects of the Olympics (and gentrification) on this area. I think Am Johal and Fred and Megaphone et al are right: what has happened is subtler and more far-reaching than that one well-massaged datapoint will ever suggest. Just ask all the people who now spend their days herded into the narrow confines of the back alleyways.

  • Sheila Paterson

    The Olympics have the glamorous front of gold medal sport, but the bid is awarded where real estate development will be rewarded.

  • This is what happens when housing is tied to the free market. Housing needs and basic human rights to housing get flushed down the toilet, because anyone seems to have the right to make a buck on the backs of the poor but only those who prosper have the right to live. This needs to change. This has to change.

  • One last point, apologies. But it’s probably worth noting also that DTES land speculation and the rapid rollout of gentrification (in addition to Woodwards, new condos are now nearing completion on Main, Powell, Hastings, Pender, and Cordova, all within 3 blocks of Hastings and Main) has, like elsewhere, come to a dead-stop thanks to the recession (ie. V6A, and For Lease signs are everywhere).

    If the boom had extended at least through the winter of 2010, we probably would be seeing even more clearly the full effect of the direction that Planning has been heading in the DTES. But land speculation may heat up here again soon if the Planning Department’s Historic Area Height Review convinces Council it is a good idea to re-write the by-laws to allow towers and raise historic building height limits in the DTES. Imagine how land values will rocket up in the area if this all gets passed!

  • olympics took my home

  • The only evidence you need are the homeless counts. All of those people used to live somewhere.

    Just so happens they started showing up in greater numbers in the lead up to the games, as Am has pointed out, tends to accompany mega events like the Olympic Games.

    When the Inner City Inclusive Commitment Statement was signed by VANOC and its government partners, an acknowledgment of the likelihood displacement would increase by bringing the Games to Vancouver was made. Promises were made which, if kept, would have served as a safety net to catch those who have fallen through the cracks. But, instead of honouring this proactive plan, those who broke their promises have allowed the evicted to hit the ground hard. All that needs to be done now is scrape them off the pavement and toss them in a warehouse so they will be out of sight while the party is on.

  • Joe Just Joe

    The increase in the homeless numbers would be hard to pinpoint on the games themselves. Some of those might have been homeless in another city or town before moving here, some of them might have become recently addicted and have decided to live on the streets in order to have more money for their addiction. There are so many possible factors that it would be very hard to pinpoint it solely on the games.

    As an aside, the project V6A is back on, they’ve been working on it for the last couple of weeks already. If a new St. Pauls does get built on the Flats then that is when you will see gentrifacation explode as hunderds and hundreds of workers flood the area on a daily basis

  • Of course, the health and social problems you mention contribute to homelessness. But real estate speculation spurred by knowledge the Games are coming was one factor the led to a rise in property values and, in turn, a general hike in rents. People on fixed incomes have found themselves on the street because rents have gone up while the shelter allowance for those on welfare remains at $375/month. People aren’t so much evicted as they are forced to give up their homes because they can no longer afford them.

  • Joe Just Joe

    I don’t disagree that the olympics haven’t aided speculation; but if we look at, Victoria, Regina, Saskatoon, etc all those cities in the last few years experienced real estate booms of their own and they don’t have the olympics.

  • mike

    “But land speculation may heat up here again soon if the Planning Department’s Historic Area Height Review convinces Council it is a good idea to re-write the by-laws to allow towers and raise historic building height limits in the DTES. Imagine how land values will rocket up in the area if this all gets passed!”

    “If a new St. Pauls does get built on the Flats then that is when you will see gentrifacation explode as hunderds and hundreds of workers flood the area on a daily basis”

    Fingers crossed 🙂