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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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