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The City of Vancouver announced Friday that it has seized numerous assets owned by the Olympic Village developer, Millennium Development, including 32 properties worth $50M and other assets valued at around $10M.

The City is owed $575M by Millennium for the Olympic Village construction loan. But City staff said Friday that after seizing Millennium assets, they now anticipate recouping a total of $725M. This means that the City plans to make $150M profit even after the construction loan is paid off.

The original 2005 Official Development Plan for the Olympic Village called for 2/3rds of the housing to be “affordable” (over 733 units out of 1100), half of which would be social housing (366 units). To that end, the City negotiated that Millennium would pay the City another $200M for using the City-owned land on Southeast False Creek. About $30M of those land-profits were already paid to the City, and in April 2010 the City invested approximately that amount ($32M) into the remaining non-market housing, although the number of these had been drastically reduced. But now that the City anticipates accumulating another $100M – $150M profits, there are no plans to invest them into meeting housing promises at the Olympic Village, or anywhere else in the City.

For now, the corporate media is parroting the nonsensical line that the City will “lose” $40M – $50M on the project (see CBC and TheSun), but it would be much more accurate to say this: whereas the City originally hoped for $200M in profits from the land lease, to be used for meeting Olympic Housing Legacy, now Gregor Robertson plans to make around $150M profit, but not re-invest it.

Grassroots activism has won social housing above the new library to be built on the 700-block of East Hastings. The development will now include 20 units of family social housing for single mothers and their children. The City of Vancouver’s March 22 media release and press conference announcing the new housing made no mention of the tireless activism that made the housing possible. But the truth is that the City preferred not to build the housing, and had to be pushed every step of the way by residents to make it a reality. Activists held a party of their own to celebrate their housing victory (see Murray Bush’s wonderful article).

“One of the most important things is for us to celebrate our victories,” said Beth Malena at yesterday’s Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) general meeting. Malena told a crowd of 100 DNC members that the housing victory wouldn’t have happened without them. “The City gave zero credit to you all. They probably don’t want to remember that they needed to be pressed to do something that’s such a no brainer.”

The library struggle

Indeed, City Council had to be dragged, practically kicking and screaming. In the summer of 2010, DNC members Fraser Stewart, Rene Belanger, and others collected 1,500 signatures for a petition supporting social housing above the proposed library. The petition was presented to the Library Board and City Council, and the latter passed a motion to “explore the possibility” of housing on the library. But by Oct 7 2010, City staff asked Council to vote against social housing on the library.

It was clear to activists that very little effort had been made by the City to “explore the possibility” (see this letter to Council). Over 50 housing supporters came to the Oct 7 Council meeting to make their case. See here for the video.

The City already owned the land, but Councilors claimed that there was no money to build the housing above. Infamously, Gregor Robertson claimed “there is no money in the drawers” (this was only months after deep cuts to business taxes). Furthermore, Councilor Geoff Meggs argued passionately that it was so urgent to begin building the library that we could not wait even a few more months to secure funding for social housing. As a last resort, housing advocate Wendy Pederson of the Carnegie Community Action Project asked that, at the very least, the material foundations of the library be built such that they could support possible housing in the future. Council voted to proceed with a stand-alone library, with the caveat that the City manager could have an extra month or two to secure funding for housing.

DNC member Dave Murray told the Vancouver Media Coop that after the meeting “we were so let down, they voted 9-1 against us. I remember walking away very depressed thinking that was that.” But activists did not give up. On Oct 21st, a demonstration was held outside the proposed library site, where kids and their parents demanded both books and housing. The next day, activists confronted the Mayor and Councilors at a $500/plate fundraiser lunch with the business elite, demanding that real action be taken to build housing on the library.

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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).



Corporate developers are ‘betting’ that they can twist enough arms to transform Edgewater Casino into a mega-casino next to BC Place. But resistance has sprung up from across the political spectrum.

The proponents of the $500M project are: the pseudo-public BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC), and Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming. In this bid, there is no distinction between State and corporate interests, much like when PavCo managed the $400M over-budget Convention Centre project. PavCo is today chaired by BC Liberal-appointee David Podmore, who is currently CEO of Concert Properties. Concert Properties, a major Vancouver development company, donated $8,000 to Vision Vancouver last election (see full list of donors here). Podmore is also the immediate previous Chair of Vancouver’s Urban Development Institute, the city’s leading gentrification think-tank and development lobby.

In early 2009, the Provincial government put out a request for proposal to lease the lands West of BC Place. Only two companies submitted proposals, the winner being Paragon’s mega-casino plan. In March 2009, T. Richard Turner, director of one of Paragon’s gaming entities and investor in Edgewater Casino, phoned BC Liberal tourism minister Kevin Krueger and told him that Paragon would only go forward with the mega-casino project if the government would build a new retractable roof on BC Place (see here and here). Note that while Mr. Turner was negotiating on behalf of Paragon, he was at the same time BC Liberal-appointed Chair of ICBC, as well as director of VANOC. He was also previously Chair of BCLC from 2001-2005.

After receiving the call from Turner, the Provincial government then decided to go forward with constructing a new retractable roof on BC Place for $450M. PavCo’s David Podmore is now managing the ongoing upgrade of BC Place, and has spent this week telling media that the project is on-time and on-budget. Of course, one could argue that the roof was always-already over-budget, since it is a monstrous useless waste of money.


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”]

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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.

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Real estate developers were noticeably upset when, on Jan 20, residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside scored a partial but significant victory against the City’s undemocratic condo-tower plan. Instead, the City was forced to finally allow a (potentially) resident-driven planning process for the area.

Shocked by their defeat, it took developers and their friends in the Corporate media over one week to respond to the democratic turn of events. Finally, on January 27, the Vancouver Sun editorial board published their talking points in an editorial titled Giving a lift to the Downtown Eastside: Build taller buildings. The piece is so counter-factual, misleading, and bigoted that it is worth unpacking line-by-line.

The Sun’s convoluted editorial begins by acknowledging that Vancouver needs more housing. Indeed, Vancouver needs more purpose-built social and affordable housing – but not more purpose-built luxury condos as the Sun prefers.

The Sun then asserts that because the Lower Mainland has a limited land-base, we must build higher buildings in the Downtown Eastside. But the Downtown Eastside already has a higher-than-average population density – why not build the towers in Shaughnessy instead?

The Sun then notes that there are “300 to 1,000 souls” who are homeless in the Downtown Eastside, but offers no solutions at all, nor any response to residents’ valid concern that gentrification will compromise the remaining low-income housing stock, pushing more people onto the street.

Instead of advocating a sophisticated approach to problem-solving in the Downtown Eastside, the Sun insults and stereotypes groups trying to address problems: “[The DTES] serves as the raison d’etre of swarms of social agencies, NGOs and self-proclaimed anti-poverty activists…Some activists have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. A gloomy ghetto of misery, destitution and squalor keeps them in business.”

Firstly, it is not acceptable to use language (“swarms of…”) which insinuates that community organizations are like insects. Nor is it ethical to suggest that it is a bad thing for people to form organizations to help each other out, to work for social justice, and to make their neighbourhoods better places.