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This week, City Councillors will be returning to City Hall from their summer break. One of the first orders of business will be to consider a large-scale condo development in the Downtown Eastside Hastings Corridor, directly across from the Raycam Community Centre and Stamp’s Place social housing.

The applicant for the project – Vision financial backer Wall Financial Group – is planning to build three 12-storey condo buildings on the site at 955 East Hastings Street. If approved, the project will total 352 units of housing. 282 of the units are proposed as market strata units, with the remaining 70 units planned as rental housing run and owned by the City of Vancouver as “social housing.”

As with the Sequel 138 project at Main and Hastings – where the city will be renting its social housing at a rate of $900/month – the majority of the 70 “social housing” units in this new Wall development will be well out of reach for low-income people. City staff are recommending to council that they rent the majority of these “social housing” units at market rates.

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While the world watches the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London with excitement and enthusiasm, now is the perfect time to reflect on the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and to draw conclusions that the two years that have passed allow us to draw.

In the years leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, many promises were made in an effort to win over public support. One of the most important promises was the delivery of social housing – lots of social housing. By the time the negotiations and roundtables leading up to the Vancouver Olympics were over, there was a concrete promise that if the city hosted the 2010 Olympics, there would be a Housing Legacy with over 3,200 units of social housing constructed prior to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that this commitment was hollow. Not one unit was built in time for the Games, and after the big event the idea of a Housing Legacy was dropped.

Those who study the Olympics have documented the enormous amount of public money the Games absorb – not for the benefit of the community but for the benefit of the large corporations that earn sizable contracts and countless benefits. London is in many ways a spitting repeat of Vancouver. In both cities, the promised Olympic Village housing was shrewdly converted into a private gain for investors at the expense of taxpayers. In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, the municipal governments of London and Vancouver both stepped in as a lenders of last resort for their respective Olympic Village developments, resulting in massive bailouts for investors and developers.

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.”
― Ralph EllisonInvisible Man

In a serial act of masochism I’ve tried over the last month to digest the daily froth whipped up by the usual suspects around the issue of Occupy Vancouver. But columnists Jon Ferry (The Province), Mark Hasiuk (Vancouver Courier), Bill Good (CKNW) and the editorial ravings of both Sun and Province have become so predictably reactionary and fear-based that reading them  has become something akin to being water-boarded with angry spittle. The consensus among almost all is a mean-spirited act of wishful thinking: that the Occupy movement disappear, evaporate back into the realm of invisibility where it no longer interrupts the neat and tidy discourse of mainstream journalism. The Globe’s Gary Mason, on the other hand, has at least tried to take a measured approach. His columns wear the see-through veneer of fairness with a token attempt at empathy and an obligatory effort at writerly description.

“He was earnest and almost breathtakingly naive, but also charming in his own way,” Mason writes about an “archetypal occupier” in Tuesday’s column, Cold Comfort as Occupy Vancouver washed away with the rain. This is condescension wearing a mask of compassion and it’s typical of the good-cop pundits who think they can ease the consciences of those who want the occupiers to recede from view but without the aid of batons or pepper spray. In fact, “charming and breathtakingly naive,” would not be an inappropriate way to describe Mason’s own stance as he surveyed Monday’s dismantling of the VAG settlement. He gives himself and his privileged perspective away in his first sentence, comparing the colour of the  “mud pit” left by the occupiers to a “dark French roast.” If this isn’t a joke, it should be. And do the rolled and folded tents bear an uncanny likeness to almond croissants? But even if Mason had been unconsciously pining in the rain for his Starbucks fix, he summoned enough feeling to grant the occupiers a few column inches: “We built a family in a pretty short period of time,” he quotes the earnest/naive occupier. “It wasn’t easy…But it’s a growing process and we’re not done yet. We will get through the winter and look forward to the spring.”