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Olympic village social housing sell-off a no-win for city

January 8th, 2010 · 14 Comments

It’s been almost a year since city staff came to council with the final estimated bill for the social housing at the Olympic village — $110 million instead of the original $65 million it was supposed to cost — and some options with what to do about it.

There’s still no decision as staff wrestle behind the scenes with all kinds of scenarios, none of them particularly palatable. My story in today’s Globe looks at some of the arguments going back and forth.

While there was a great public call to just sell it off, pocket the money and build social housing elsewhere, what I’m getting from city hall these days is that that’s not the slam-dunk it might look. Everything that made the social housing more expensive — all the sustainability features, the high cost of labour at the time, the added cost of building low-rise buildings that were too tall for wood construction but without enough floors to make the cost of concrete construction pay off — is features that house-buyers aren’t going to be prepared to shell out extra for. Capillary heating mats just don’t have the same punch as granite counter-tops.

Then there’s the delicate issue of the buyer, Millennium, potentially having a good legal case against the city, whose original RFP to bidders did not make any mention of the city competing with them by selling off 250 units of additional housing at the site.

There are still many interesting solutions being floated behind the scenes, which may come to fruition or not sometime after the Olympics. Can’t wait to read the end of this novel.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Joe Just Joe

    Using the numbers in your article it appears the cost to the city would be $77Million for the largest subsidy or $35Million for (close to market rentals). Seems like the difference of $42 Million. How many units could we get elsewhere for $42Million?
    Without all the details it appears financially (not necessarily socially) the city would be best off renting the units at market rates for a period of 10yrs and then re-evaluating the situation then. At least then the area should be built out and more likely that the city could turn a profit on selling them off piecemeal with the proceeds going into better thought out social housing.

  • Frances Bula

    Yes, that’s exactly what they’re talking about doing — renting out at market rates or close to, rather than spending 42 million subsidizing 252 families for next few decades.

  • Bill Lee

    This is is in the loss register, (along with the destruction of Little Mountain housing on Main) for famlies.

    So where is the gain for families in the City, central to the downtown resources?

    I read that the Marine Drive places near the Skytrain station are to be made market-able so they are gone.

    The city owned corner of small shops etc. at Dunbar and 16th has been razed. So is something, as has been suggested going there. Or “the land is too valuable” excuse the new “You would be comfortable living there?”

  • Social housing at OV.

    Whatever the cost, the hall is obliged to subsidise: the only responsible thing to do. Otherwise the city will degenerate into a play ground for the off-shore rich.

    Other formulae means years of waiting and maybe never . . .

    Risking repetition but worth a reminder, here’s my number crunching once more:

    Average Vancouver Condo C$350,000.00

    -15% down payment C$52,500.00

    30 year Mortgage C$297,500
@ 5.7% (Bank, CU)

    Monthly mortgage payments C$1,712.58
    Monthly municipal taxes C$125.00

    Monthly strata fees C$250.00

    Gross monthly payments C$2,337.58


    Monthly income @ 30% payments (CHMC) C$7,123.74

    So, to buy in Vancouver, according to CMHC’s ideal figures, a family income of C$85,000+/- will get you one bedroom, a view of other high rises, posh neighbours . . . provided your partner has a good job!

    This is ridiculous. Vancouver does not have a wealth generating base to justify this!

  • Stephanie

    Renting the units out at low end of market is infinitely preferable to selling them – Vancouver is in desperate need of a variety of non-market housing options, not just the deep core/supportive units that everyone’s focused on these days.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Nuts Thought of the Day

    “I think everyone that lives in Vancouver deserves to be as mad as Hell.
    We have no politicians (we have old age Pinocchio’s in suits), we have no MSM (we have a deaf drummer boy in the square) and we have no real future (unless we consider gambling and grow-ops as healthy goals). What we do have, however, is a very colourful, glossy and so very real, treasure map to self-destruction”

    “Canadian gold on Canadian soil; do you believe?” That’s what is embarrassingly played on the radio. “Goats for Gold” That’s what is curiously printed in the papers. That’s what all is about. Or is it? Are we so narrow minded, so superficial, so egotistical? Yes, yes and yes.

    For the very deep thinkers reading this post I’ll give you a little bite for thought:
    “The non-support, the erosion or elimination of present and future affordable housing (social, coop, rental) will do to the average property owner in Canada (that’s you all right), what Wild West Capitalism did to the property owners of the former communist countries after the fall of communism (as a matter of fact you could also check the similarities with your South American counterparts). Sooner or later, the petty, egocentrically, 2B + den, indebted through the nose owner (I am not talking Old Money or $35,000 “character” bungalow in Kits, bought in the 50’s here!), will be stylishly bankrupted and ultimately owned by the very Corporations (the real title owner of your property), that sold them in to the very idea of ownership. Just give it time.”

    Urbanismo, my friend, you are so right!

    As for my views on this “new development” whomever is interested, go into Frances archives (Dec 9th, 2009) and read 3 & 11 (Think City says…);
    I for one I have no taste for a rewrite.

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • PGH

    Could someone please tell me where the $110 Million figure comes from? Does this include the cost of the land? Does this include the cost of financing the project? Does this include the cost of paying Millennium to ‘manage’ the construction? Does this include the ‘costs’ of the loan guarantees for the project?

    I think this cost grossly understates the cost of those high end (Location, green features, and finishes) units. The fact that there is any thought being given to making them anything other than market rental units is insane.

    The city is desperate for rental units but every time someone suggests building some new units there is an outcry of NIMBYs. See the most recent proposal in the West End. If Vancouverites want cheaper housing/rental units we are going to have to have more highrises in the areas of town that are assessable by public transport. This is how it is done in every other city in the world. I can’t figure out why people living in Vancouver think they are different. You can’t subsidize your way to cheap housing for everyone that wants it. Although politicians in Vancouver and special interest groups seem to want to give it a try.

    -Bill Lee, that lot at 16th and Dunbar is being turned into some sort of social housing. I’m not sure what but you can’t demo a building in Vancouver until you have a building permit for what is going up. When I don’t know but something is.

    -Francis or anyone, Could you please tell me if there is a limit to the length of time you can live in subsidized social housing. I noticed that one of the people living at Little Mountain had been there over 40 years and her kids lived in other units on the site. What is the average length of time people stay? I suspect very few people leave when subsidies are sweet and tax free.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    The worst part of it is that—as a neighbourhood—there is a big question mark hanging over OV: Are the buildings too tall, and the streets too narrow for the public realm feel anything but mean?

    Urbanismo’s number crunching gives us one reason to doubt. The other kind of number crunching that he and I like to do—regarding the quality of the resulting urban space—at least as seen from a distance today—seems likely to turn up equally poor results.

    Yikes~! Did we really get it THAT wrong?

    What really disappoints about OV is that the possibility to make it a kind of “demonstration project” about how we would achieve density by urbanizing Vancouver into a series of “quartiers” strung along Streetcar corridors seems to be just not on.

    Too bad, since this is probably the only way to build truly affordable housing in our market economy.

    Judging from the view I get from Skytrain, or from the closed-off access points along 2nd Avenue, what we seem to have built is a kind of tower-and-podium imploded to look like low-rise, high-density.

    Does it achieve human scale? Are we presented with a linked sequence of urban spaces that support street life and community spirit?

    Let’s wait and see.

  • Hoarse Whisperer

    Tip of the hat to Glissando and Urbanismo.

    I throw up in my mouth a little every time some Vancouver Councillor talks about local, ‘affordable’ housing. Unless the governmenmt gets into building (subsidized) units (which they won’t in the current market), it ain’t gonna happen.

    However, Urb’s math shos precisley what could happen to one bedroom units if that interest rate creeps up. Mini bubble, anyone?

    If the Olympics don’t bring in the intended “investors” as Expo did, perhaps we will see some sanity prevail in the market. Till then, I will keep on renting and stick whatever else I have into my mattress.

  • Bill McCreery

    J.J.J. is on the right track given the current relatively unstable market & the no compete issue Francis raised.

    There is a disconnect in civic governance & planning & development in particular that has concerned me for some time. From past policies [created by TEAM in the 1970s which have served Vancouver well, & a few visionary staff such as Stuart Lafeaux, parks, & Ray Spaxman, planning] have given Vancouver a real ‘vision’ of where the City was meant to go. These policies & planning mechanisms have proven to work.

    The current crowd of politicos & staff have lost that connection. For their own political purposes Vision is defining itself as ‘trying’ to be green & providing some sorts of ‘affordable’ housing [an unfortunate misnomer, the only affordable housing is housing which was built & managed by the province & feds & when it becomes more affordable as inflation improves its cost / benefit ratio]. The private sector will not provide affordable housing because they ultimately will simply take out more & more profit based on supply & demand. So Vision’s sellouts to developers in the West End & False Creek NE will fail & are nieve & misguided.

  • Blaffergassted

    Take heart, Vancouver is not alone!
    Here’s the new regional shrink strategy.

    Comment closes on Jan. 29!

  • david hadaway

    When I first moved to Vancouver I was surprised by how dark many of the residential high rises are at night, a sign of how many apartments are held as unoccupied investments.

    Many European cities have laws and regulations to prevent this, compelling speculators to release rentable property into the market. I won’t be holding my breath for that to happen here but it would be interesting to know, and probably not too hard for City Hall to estimate, roughly how many such unused units there are.

  • I don’t believe the NIMBYs understand who lives in non-market housing in this city.

    Drop by my crusty co-op. It’s full of young families who, had they been born 10 years earlier, would have owned houses in Douglas Park or South Main.

    That means some of the folks who, 10 years ago, would have happily lived in mixed-income co-ops have been squeezed out (through a crackdown on subsidized untis in co-ops) and are now needing BC Housing-style social housing.

    Any boomer who doesn’t want social housing in their building – or to support subsidies for it on False Creek – should think about where their kids / grandkids are going to live.

  • Perhaps it’s time for Vancouver to declare itself a resort municipality, like Whistler is, and just build thousands of units of worker housing on the back of business taxes.

    Solve two problems at once:
    1. Gridlock and greenhouse disaster each morning as relatively low-paid workers commute into Vancouver, and

    2. Housing affordability for families.