Athlete's Village (right) under construction. Are taxpayers getting the best bang for their buck?
Support for bailout of costly waterfront social housing not unanimous among BC's left wing politicos
It's another day, and yet another debate rages on regarding the construction of the 252 social housing units on Vancouver's waterfront at the Olympic Athlete's Village. With the cost of construction having soared to $440,000 per unit, Vision Vancouver is now re-considering whether the City can actually afford to build these units. Regardless of what was committed to in the Olympic bid book, the City will likely sell (or rent out) a majority of those units and build the 252 units somewhere else on cheaper land away from the waterfront.
If you recall, Vision's original plan for the Olympic Village was to have a mix of 66% non-market housing, with 33% being dedicated to social housing. This was a utopian plan that only Vision and their supporters seemed to believe was financially sustainable.
Prior to Vision/COPE's political re-engineering, City policy had been to aim for 20% social housing in all new developments. According to City staff, COPE/Visions's original Olympic Village plan would have cost taxpayers an additional $45 million to construct. A small detail that the professional PR spin doctors at City Hall seemed to have omitted from their official talking points.
The Georgia Straight interviewed Mayor Robertson on the subject late last week and he all but confirmed that the City was going to nix at least some social housing at the Olympic Village as a cost saving measure.
“We’re assessing that now and seeing whether there’s a better option that delivers more social housing for the same dollars in the same neigbourhood as part of our Olympic commitment."
“I think given the massive cost increase, we gotta look at trying to get a good outcome here..."
Anticipate the first public spat between the COPE and Vision parties if Robertson and Geoff 'Mayor' Meggs follow through with their plan to rejig the social housing commitment at the Athlete's Village.
Councillor Ellen Woodsworth says COPE will not waiver from its commitment to build 252 units of social housing at this site come hell or tide water:
“We have an affordable-housing crisis in this city. If we don’t want to see more people homeless in the street, we have to do something about it.”
On another ocean front, a battle is brewing between COPE and Vision regarding whether the City should give the Athlete's Village developer a break on how much interest they will charge them to complete the project. Here's what Woodsworth told the Straight:
“We have now bought out Fortress [the lender]. “We are going to be saving quite a bit of money in terms of interest rates. COPE doesn’t think we should pass those savings onto Millennium [the developer]. Millennium has got us in this situation we’re in. But we could use those savings to apply to the cost overruns on the affordable housing units--and make sure we keep those affordable housing units.”
Vision and the NPA appear prepared to give the developer the best deal possible, while COPE is opposed.
Meanwhile, Mayor Robertson seems to be going in a different direction than his former NDP MLA colleague Jenny Kwan who now wants provincial taxpayers to pick up the tab for cost overruns on the ocean front social housing. In an open letter to the Premier, here's what she had to say:
"I am writing to call on the Provincial Government to partner with the City of Vancouver and VANOC to deliver the reduced promise of 252 units of affordable housing at the Olympic Village site at a minimum."
As you are aware, Vancouver taxpayers already have to bail out the developer with the high-end condominium for this project, it would be an absolute shame if the social housing component of the project were lost at this time."
However, not all of Kwan's colleagues are as enthusiastic about the Province bailing out the City of Vancouver. In a recent debate in BC's legislature about the Athlete's Village, NDP MLA Guy Gentner said:
"…here we are in Vancouver writing out a blank cheque to bail out a very messy situation. It's not fair. It's not fair to rural communities. It's not fair to my community. It's not fair to the residents in my community…"
NDP MLA Jenn McGinn echoed similar sentiments when she said:
"So they [senior's] are just concerned and worried about how the government seems to be able to bail out and essentially write a blank cheque to the city for this project while at the same time not have money for other much-needed projects."
You can expect this debate will rage on for the next few weeks with everyone preparing for the big announcement regarding the future of social housing at the Athlete's Village.
Cost overruns at the Athlete's Village are likely to trigger a heated debate regarding where social housing should be located within the city. I predict this is about to get a bit ugly folks - strap on your seat belts.