CTV's Shannon Paterson puts the Olympic Village problems into perspective
After Globe and Mail reporter Frances Bula's bombshell news from Wednesday, Vancouver city council is in full damage control mode after learning their proposed plan of getting much needed social housing online by November – seven months since the units have sat empty – is still not going forward.
My 24 Hours column, featured every Thursday, focuses on this latest wrinkle in the Olympic Village mess.
Last week I discussed the problem facing Vancouver taxpayers over the inability to sell housing at the Olympic Village project. This week the story takes another bizarre turn with the news the city is stuck without a third-party operator of the project’s social- and rental-housing units.
The province was not impressed with the only three applicants who came forward to run the units. Amazingly, the biggest non-profit housing operators in Metro Vancouver all took a pass on the project, citing too many risks attached.
These $500,000-plus social housing units were built in time for the Olympics. Vision Vancouver decided to make half of them market rental, with unionized teachers, police and emergency workers getting first dibs.
Catch the rest of the column online, or pretty much every bus or rapid transit station in Metro Vancouver.
Now Bula has the latest turn on this story – the City is now proposing to take on the $46 million loan guarantee and run these units without the Province's backing. The additional risk to Vancouver taxpayers seems like a big gamble. Bula's report spells it out:
Mr. Meggs said he didn’t know what the impact would be of the city providing a $46-million loan guarantee on top of the other debt it is carrying on the Olympic village.
“No one’s assessed that at this point,” he said.
The city is currently carrying $1.6-billion in taxpayer-supported debt, triple the level it was carrying in 2006. That debt load, which works out to $2,623 per city resident, which is higher than in most Canadian cities, rose dramatically last February when the city took over the construction loan for the private developer building the 1,100-unit village.
Gulp. Can someone say "downgraded credit rating"? Actually, yes.
Dominion Bond Rating Service did assess Vancouver an AA rating in July, the same level that it was downgraded to last February after the city took over the construction loan for Millennium Development Corp. when its U.S. lender refused to advance any more money because of cost overruns on the project.
Other media are reporting this latest wrinkle in the Olympic Village saga, including the aforementioned 24 Hours, The Province and the Vancouver Sun, CTV News, GlobalTV and News 1130. Undoubtedly as the City of Vancouver takes on more risk for this troubled project, the voices of concern are going to get louder.
As for Gregor Robertson, he doesn't seem to have a clue as to what's going on regarding his mishandling of this project. He told the Sun this morning:
I don’t know why this went sideways
The Sun goes on to report:
Robertson, meanwhile, said he was surprised that only three of the 22 potential bidders who viewed the site in August decided to bid.
“It’s confounding that it’s been slow and hasn’t drawn more operator interest to a brand-new building that should have lower operating costs because of energy efficiencies.”
Mark Townsend of the Portland Housing Society, one of only three brave souls to put in a bid with BC Housing sums it up this way:
It’s a mess-up...
A recent Globe and Mail headline read: "City demands of non-profit housing operators keeping Olympic village empty". It was an ominous warning to Vancouver taxpayers regarding what to expect under Mayor Robertson's new Olympic Village finance and social housing plan:
The controversial city-owned rental units at Vancouver’s Olympic village have been sitting empty since the Games ended in March – and they’ll continue that way for at least two more months.
The city’s complex and unusual demands for future non-profit operators have produced so much confusion and concern that the already much-delayed bid process had to have its deadline extended last week to the end of September.
Non-profit organizations considering whether to bid to operate one or all of the city’s three buildings say they’ve been taken aback by city demands that they turn over any surpluses they might generate.
“The societies aren’t getting anything out of this. The city needs to think through this a bit more because these wouldn’t be reasonable terms ordinarily,” said Bob Nicklin, the executive director of Affordable Housing Societies.
Barbara Bacon, the long-time director at the Housing Foundation of B.C., also expressed concern.
“If you make money, you have to give it up to the city. If you lose money, you’re on the hook for it.”
What has been described as a "summer from hell" for Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver, is now turning into a fall from grace with the 2011 election looming only just one year away.
For further background on the facts of how we got into this mess, read our previous feature reports on the history of the Olympic Village:
- Which way out of the Vancouver Olympic Village mess?
- Olympic Village decisions defined political differences
HORNBY BIKE LANE UPDATE: CKNW News interviewed Mayor Gregor Robertson on the matter of the increased cost of the lane – now up to $3.2 million.
Gregor Robertson says the new plan has improved passenger and loading zones and signals to allow right hand turns. And that's why the budget has increased a little. "A little," is a price tag jump to 3.2 million up from 2.1.
Back in July our sources were telling us that the proposed cost for this project was going to be at least $3 million. Then the City suggested it would be lower when the controversy stirred up. The City has reported what we've heard all along. Now the Mayor says the higher cost is a result of "right turn signals and loading bays".
So which is it? Was the budget always $3 million and we're getting spun, or have Engineering really come up with more features that raised the cost by over 50%?
- post by Mike