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Olympic village prompts questions about city policy of mixing rich and poor

October 5th, 2010 · 35 Comments

There is social housing all over the city, but most people don’t realize it.

Coal Harbour, the nice section of Kitsilano next to Jericho Beach, north False Creek, the West End, south Granville — there are unobtrusive apartment buildings everywhere.

For a long time, that’s gone unquestioned. But in the past week, the issue has been raised again, particularly because Michael Geller, a well-known development consultant, housing aficionado, and urban-planning commentator, has made the point in a number of interviews and conversations that he thinks desperately needed condo sales at the village may be impeded by the presence of social housing.

Michael is somewhat mortified at how his comments likely sound to most people, saying he realizes that when he tries to discuss the issue, it goes so against the conventional wisdom in Vancouver and sounds so elitist that he comes across as “disgusting.” But he’s continuing to talk about it so insistently that I decided to check with some of the other well-known condo marketers in town to get their opinions. You can read them in my story here.

Those two marketers essentially said “people understand they’re living in a diverse city and they don’t expect segregation.”

I should add a bit more of what they said. (Just can’t fit everything into the print edition.) Although both said they have no problem selling high-end condos next to social housing, both made it clear that they think there has to be a careful mix.

George Wong said he doesn’t think it works to try to put social housing and market housing in a single building. As well, he said that some of the highest-end buildings in Coal Harbour were designed specifically to keep out even lower-income buyers, by making all of the units, even on the ground-floor (typically the cheapest in Vancouver) large.

Cameron McNeill also said buyers are very accepting of social housing, but there has to be a balance. He felt that 110 core-need units is not an excessive amount for a community with 1,100 units.

Something that I personally have noticed is that many condo buildings in Vancouver have a wide mix of incomes, even though they don’t have any social housing in them. The people on top in the penthouses may have paid a couple million or more, but the income level goes down with each floor. The lower couple of floors are often filled with first-time buyers. That’s without even talking about the renters, who add another level of diversity.

All without a dime spent on social engineering.

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