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Cost of the social housing at Olympic village?

January 14th, 2009 · 28 Comments

I haven’t bothered posting the last couple of days on the Olympic village because there is now such a raging torrent of media coverage that I decided to stand on the riverbank letting it flow by, while I think about what’s going on. I’m sure many of you are in the same state, as we’ve all been hit over the head by one piece of staggering news after another.

I’d just like to repeat again that it’s a great idea to take a deep breath and recognize that we’re all in a state of adrenaline overload, not a great condition for making rational decisions or coming out with thoughtful opinions about anything.

With that warning out there, a couple of questions/observations that have gone unanswered for me amid the uproar:

1. What might the project have cost if it had gone ahead as one-third social housing, one-third market rental, and one-third market condos, as COPE/Vision originally planned?

Michael Geller has estimated that the cost of the 250 units of social housing likely stands at around $100 million. (That works out to a construction cost of about $500 a foot if each unit is an average of 800 SF, less if there’s more SF than I have guessed at.) The federal government, through VANOC, only gave $30 million for this site. It’s unclear where the rest of the money is going to come from to ensure that these units remain at the low, subsidized rates for social housing.

It’s also unclear how the 100 market-rental units that the city wanted as part of the project factors into all this. The city essentially gave Millennium the land for free, by giving an additional 70,000 SF of density for those units. That means Millennium only needed to build them and then work out a rental rate to recoup those costs. Again, with construction costs having more than doubled in the last three years, how much of the current debt is related to those units? We don’t know because the messaging coming from city hall has all been about the cost of the market for-sale condos.

It would be just great if the Vision council would get those numbers out as well, in their work on being transparent. Because it seems to me the thing that we are all losing sight of here is that any project that had to be built for the Olympics was at risk of going awry, given the two factors of 1. an inflexible deadline 2. an explosive increase in materials and labour costs.

So to act as though all of the problems of this project were caused by allowing a private developer to build high-end market condos obscures a good analysis of all the component parts of the project. As we all know, the convention centre expansion isn’t being built by a private developer trying to make a profit. But the construction costs there have doubled and we taxpayers are going to be paying for a building that is now in the $850 million range. As with the condos at Millennium Water, it is unclear how long it will take the province (i.e. us, the payers of the bills) to recoup the costs of construction, given that the convention industry may be seeing a teeny bit of a slowdown in coming years.

One thought for the day. More to come at some point.

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