This past Saturday, Housing activists established a picket line in front of the Olympic Village condo sales centre, where the City is trying to sell off the housing units promised as social and affordable housing. Picketers engaged with prospective buyers and asked them to “respect the housing legacy picket line” and refrain from purchasing broken-promise housing units until Olympic housing promises are secured and until questions are answered about the Millennium bail-out.
Picketers attempted to enter the sales centre to purchase the remaining units with a larger-than-life $400M cheque from the Property Endowment Fund. The City responded by restricting access to the sales centre. Only those with pre-arranged meetings with realtors were allowed in.
Here are three interactions that stand out:
1 | One woman, who came to the centre to get out of a contract she had signed 7-days previous (it was therefore her last day to do so), was at first barred from entry. Only after 30 minutes of protest did security allow her inside to get out of the condo contract.
2 | A prospective buyer was barred entry because of the clothes that he was wearing (on cell phone pictured above left). Security was given discretion to allow entry based on apparent class.
3 | A family that had planned on buying a broken-promise unit changed their mind after hearing from the picketers. The family emerged from the sales centre and declared that it was immoral for them or anyone else to buy housing that had been promised to those who need it most (video below).
The City of Vancouver stands to profit from selling-off housing units at the Olympic Village that were promised for affordable and social housing. The original Official Development plan for the Olympic Village committed that 2/3rds of the 1100 units would be affordable, half of which would be social housing.
But the City has invested almost no funds toward meeting these promises. Millennium development corporation, which built the Olympic Village, has already paid $29M to the City for the land lease. The City then put forward a similar amount ($32M) toward the few remaining “affordable” units. In short, the City spent almost no new funds on affordable housing. Even worse, these “affordable” units were then transferred to a co-op to be marketed at unaffordable levels.
The City stands to collect another $170M from Millennium for the land lease, but the City has no plans to reinvest any of this profit to meet housing promises. There is ample precedent to do so: the fourteen sites of supportive housing were built by the City putting forward the land without expectation of profit.
Millennium on the hook, not the City
The Millennium development corporation is not bankrupt or insolvent, as many suppose. On the contrary, they remain legally on hook for the construction loan. For now the City has taken control of marketing the Olympic Village properties, but Millennium has many other properties and assets. Instead of going after Millennium’s assets, the City has bailed-out Millennium. Millennium had been paying high interests rates, but the City has waived that requirement. The City is selling off social housing to keep Millennium afloat.
The City has hired condo marketer Bob Rennie to sell-off the ‘broken promise’ units. Bob Rennie claims that he is trying to “protect the taxpayer,” but in fact by liquidating the broken promise units, he is protecting Millennium by ensuring that the City does not go after their assets. [To be continued in Part 2, “Poverty Runs Over-budget at False Creek”]
Condo marketer Bob Rennie claims to have sold 128 of 230 condo units up-for-grabs in the latest round of sales at the Olympic Village. Similar to last week’s re-launch of the The Village on False Creek, where Bob Rennie hired people to wait in line at the sales centre, Rennie’s press conference earlier today was a charade. Again this week, people were “hired by the realtor,” according to one hiree (see video here).
Rennie’s strategy was quite simple: over the past few weeks and months, he asked his speculator and real-estate agent friends how much they would be willing to pay for some units. Then, he convinced the City to let him sell-off 230 units at a discounted price to his speculator friends (who will not live in them). Then he planned to announce the sales as though these were actual families buying the units.
This ruse was the only way Bob Rennie could convince the public that the units were still viable as luxury condominiums. But the condo units, two thirds of which were promised to Vancouver’s poor as part of the Olympic housing legacy, will remain empty.
Rennie’s hope is that the hype will “lift the fog” from the “ghost town,” and that actual residents will then purchase the units now owned by Rennie’s speculator friends. Eventually, if people move into the units, Rennie can try to sell the remainder of the units not-yet on the market.
To reinforce the hype and create headlines, real-estate agents were paid to wait in line outside the sales office last week. Last week a similar attempt to use the media to draw interest in a real-estate development in Burnaby was called out.
It is common for Vancouver journalists to bemoan the “fiasco” of the Olympic Village, but they are so often bogged-down in financial matters above their pay-grade that they forget the true fiasco of South East False Creek. Indeed, the Village embodies a profound scandal. At the core of the scandal is that governments broke their social housing promises at the site and then lied about it.
The original plan for the Olympic Village was that 2/3rds of the 1100 units would be affordable, a full half of which would be social housing for those most in need (“deep core”).
The rationale for these promises goes back to the very start of the Olympic bid process. There was much concern that Vancouver’s affordability crisis might grow on account of winning the Olympic bid, pushing the most vulnerable residents into homelessness. In their Inclusivity Statement, the Olympic partners committed to mitigating these impacts, and to providing a positive social housing legacy through projects like the Athletes’ Village at South East False Creek (SEFC). This latter promise was repeated constantly by government officials for years in the lead-up to the Olympics.
A rigorous community planning process between 2003 and 2005 produced the Official Development Plan (ODP) for South East False Creek (SEFC), which was approved by Vancouver City Council on 19 July 2005. The exact wording of the Plan read:
“The goal for household income mix is one-third low income, one-third middle income (or ‘affordable’ housing) and one-third market.”
In addition to rent increases caused by the upscaling and renovation of dozens of low-income buildings around the city, Vancouver is losing affordable housing through the outright demolition of buildings. Last month, City Council approved the demolition of the Cecil Hotel. Two months ago, Vancouver City Council approved the loss of almost all low-income housing at the American Hotel, whose tenants were illegally evicted in 2006. Last year saw a drastic loss of housing, with City Council allowing for the closure of low-income hotels surrounding Woodward’s while granting the demolition permit for the 224 housing units at Little Mountain.
Today, however, the provincial and municipal governments jointly proclaim a “partnership of excellence” in the fight against homelessness. Some journalists have written of the “tight bond” between the Province and City under Mayor Gregor Robertson, and it has recently been reported that many Vision councilors were favorable towards Rich Coleman’s leadership bid for the BC Liberal Party because of “all the progress he has been able to make with the City of Vancouver on social housing during this Vision Vancouver term.”[i]
More than anything else, the proclaimed successes of the “partnership” revolve around the construction of fourteen sites of social housing in Vancouver, known as the ‘Vancouver sites.’ The myth of these fourteen sites can be traced to the destruction of housing at Little Mountain.