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ThinkCity says: Sell social housing at Olympic village

December 9th, 2009 · 16 Comments

As council awaits a staff report on what to do about the 250 units of social housing at the Olympic village, whose construction costs ending up soaring far beyond what a normal social-housing unit would cost, ThinkCity is weighing in with an opinion on this issue that echoes what others, many of them of a somewhat more right-wing persuasion, have said.

This is going to be a difficult one to sort out. If there was anything the previous COPE council wanted here, it was a social mix. The mix was already diluted when the NPA council came in and eliminated the idea of trying to make one-third of the units affordable.

This would pretty much eliminate all but the narrowest range of social mix at the site. It raises a painful debate for proponents of social housing. Obviously, just putting social housing always in the cheapest parts of town, yes, generates more units but then creates exactly the kind of concentration or ghetto that everyone — left and right — agrees is problematic. So what is the balance between trying to get a mix of social housing into a wider range of neighbourhoods without blowing the budget?

Obviously the best solution is when governments can get in before land values start to skyrocket and when construction costs are at a reasonable rate. It’s because of that that we have social housing in Kitsilano, including near the waterfront at Jericho, and in some other unusual parts of the city.

And then you build something nice, but not extravagant. However, it also needs to fit into the neighbourhood. It doesn’t do anyone any good for social housing to be instantly recognizable because it’s the worst-looking housing on the block. I don’t have a complete handle yet on why the construction costs went so high on this project — how much was construction-cost escalation, how much was nice touches to help it fit into the neighbourhood, how much was meeting the green goals.

But now councillors are going to have to make the painful decision on what ultimately is the best solution — social mix at a high cost or not?

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