Enter the tub and you will see the truth
Jim Green's accusation in Saturday's Vancouver Sun printed op/ed about Michael Geller being "prejudiced" against poor people is abhorrent and Green should apologize for it. Those who know Michael Geller understand that he has been a true civic leader, and a man of principle. Geller is most definitely not a political partisan. In my opinion, the words of Jim Green are representative of the Vision Vancouver bully machine.
There's no one who understands the real course of events surrounding the Olympic Athlete's Village that truly believes Vision Vancouver's Alice in Wonderland version of history. However, Gregor Robertson and team Vision persist in using the project as another way to maintain their fairy tale of good governance.
Vision's politicking will cost Vancouver taxpayers tens of millions of dollars of value in the project at a minimum. I expect that the Malek brothers and Bob Rennie would like to point the finger of blame at someone for the business problem that faces them today. They might think that Michael Geller's unflappable candour is the root of the problem. However, if they were permitted to speak freely I doubt they would have good things to say about how Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver have handled the Olympic Village file. In fact, the Maleks said that to the Sun's Jeff Lee on Thursday.
So how did Vancouver fall into the billion dollar rabbit hole it finds itself in? Today the Sun published the views of former Vision mayoral candidate Jim Green, whose consulting company billed top dollar when it was hired to work on the Olympic Village after the last election. Now Green is earning big bucks on another massive social housing project in Vancouver – the one at Little Mountain.
Green was given the opportunity to go on the attack, and to defend the project that he and his COPE/Vision colleagues had planned and designed to their social specifications during their 2003-2005 term of office. In the Sun opinion piece he smears both Michael Geller, as well as Daniel and myself. We present Green's words below in their entirety, but we're putting them through The Hot Tub De-Spin Time Machine™ to scrub out the truthiness in Green's words, and get the facts.
Prejudice against social housing is not a Vancouver valueBy Jim Green, special to the Vancouver Sun
Michael Geller is not telling us the truth about social housing. But he is telling us the truth about the Non-Partisan Association.
So supposedly Geller lied and Green is about to help us to understand that. The title right away signals that Green is speaking to Michael's "prejudice" against poor people. And because he ran for them in 2008, by Green's logic Geller somehow represents the NPA's viewpoint.
Geller is telling us that the city should sell off social housing at the Olympic village. The Vancouver Sun recently published an editorial supporting this view titled Sell Olympic condos at market price and build social housing elsewhere. Suzanne Anton, the lone NPA councillor at city hall, also supports this position.
Geller has said that by selling the costly units at Southeast False Creek you could create "twice as much social housing" elsewhere. But as we'll explain further on, Jim Green was himself involved in a similar exchange where social housing investments were moved from one affluent community into a lower income community.
Geller said you should not mix people of the A class with people from B, C, D and E classes. We have a pretty good idea that his idea of A class refers to those who can afford luxury condos. I'm not sure about B and C, but D and E clearly includes poor people and people who face difficulties in life, such as mental challenges, mental illnesses, disabilities, addictions, etc.
Geller said mixing the very rich with the very poor is problematic, and no one would argue with that. In fact, the irony is that a Millennium Development marketing event this week involved lifting a $200,000 Audi
$85,000 sports car onto the balcony of a Olympic Village penthouse. Clearly those units are being marketed to people with deep pockets, most of whom are not inclined to be neighbours with the city's disadvantaged.
Also, "E" category citizens are the so-called "hard to house" that may have mental health and drug addiction issues. Green misleads readers with any suggestion that 'E' category citizens were going to be housed at the Olympic Village. Does Green think that they should?
Geller clearly states that none of this cohort of people from the Downtown Eastside should be allowed to live on the property.
Geller has always been clear that in order to sell seven-figure condos – which the City wants to happen – you do not move hard to house citizens into the development.
Geller is also saying there should not be supportive housing on the site. I am sure that Geller knows that the City of Vancouver plan is for families and seniors/singles, not supportive housing. However, if some one later in life requires supports, it would not be logical to have them moved from Olympic Village.
Green's remarks here are preposterous. What he is insinuating is that Geller is in favour of "social cleansing" the Olympic Village – i.e. you will be removed from the property once your social needs increase. The fact is that the Province is responsible for supportive housing for seniors and those with health challenges, not the City.
Geller is going to every media outlet and telling everyone who will listen that the social housing should be sold off because people may not buy condos if there is social housing in the vicinity.
More likely the media are coming to Michael, who is kind enough to offer his informed opinion. Michael is not a part of some lunatic right-wing fringe as Green implies, but has been personally responsible for some of the most progressive developments in Metro Vancouver. Geller states the obvious – it's rare to find someone willing to buy a seven-figure home neighbouring social housing.
As someone who has been involved in the development industry for years and who has worked on the original South False Creek project which includes Granville Island, Geller knows that the housing in that community is based on the concept of one-third low income, one-third middle income and one-third what the market will bear. Utne Reader proclaimed a few years ago that it was the best community in North America. I think we should congratulate Geller for his role in that development.
South False Creek was achieved with significant federal & provincial subsidies when this kind of money was available in the 1970s. It was also built on industrial land that the City still owns during a time when people were highly skeptical that housing could be built beside working ports and lumber mills. Many of the units on South False Creek are still heavily subsidized through the City's Property Endowment Fund, and many homes are rented at locked-in below market rates.
Subsequent to the South False Creek project, in the 1980s, the City of Vancouver under Gordon Campbell as mayor, adopted a policy of 20-percent social housing on all large development schemes. The north side of False Creek has integrated social housing and market condos, as have the Bayshore Lands, which again Geller was involved in.
Not correct. While there are some successful social housing units there already, there are five vacant sites on the north shore of False Creek (Concord Pacific properties) awaiting social housing developments but there is no money to build them.
Regarding the Bayshore Lands, according to Geller, Jim Green helped him negotiate with city council in the 1990s to make a payment in lieu of family housing at Bayshore to support social housing in the DTES. So in effect, that which Green criticizes today – moving social housing out of an affluent district and using those dollars in a lower income part of the city – Green himself aided some time ago!
L'Hermitage -- a high-end hotel developed by Millennium, the developers of the Olympic village -- includes social housing adjacent to the hotel. Woodward's, with 500 units of market housing and 200 units of social housing located in the Downtown Eastside, sold out the condo units in less than eight hours. Geller is surely aware of these facts, and yet, he is putting forward a position that is not true.
Panicked condo buyers in line-ups fearful they'll miss out on getting first dibs were a phenomenon of earlier this decade when easy money flowed and inflation guaranteed the buyer some equity. It had nothing to do with the income mix of those developments.
Let's step back in recent history. When I was on city council we endorsed a position of one-third low income, one-third middle income and one-third luxury units, a model that I believe is the key to the unification of our citizens in Vancouver.
In fact Sam Sullivan's council, which Green is so quick to heap scorn upon, approved a density bonus to Millennium in return for additional market rental units to broaden the social income mix. By reducing over $50 million worth of commitments for amenities and non-market housing (which both Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver castigated the NPA for) Sullivan & co. gave the project a fighting chance to succeed. It's likely it would have, if not for the global economy tanking in 2008.
When Sam Sullivan came into office in 2005, he brought a right-wing ideology that reduced the social housing and eliminated the middle-income housing. He then proceeded to add luxury to the market condos, and expensive sustainability requirements, including extremely expensive systems onto the social housing, which made for the most expensive social housing in the world.
Here's the truth. It was the developer and Bob Rennie who decided what the market should be. City council had no input as to what "luxury" went into the Olympic Village.
As for adding "expensive sustainability requirements" isn't it funny that Gregor Robertson is now taking credit for pushing this project from LEED Gold to LEED Platinum status, while crediting Mayor Larry Campbell and the COPE council for the direction on green development. Ironic, huh?
The seniors building at the Olympic village is net zero -- I know of no other social housing project anywhere that is net zero, it is so costly to build.
Did Sam Sullivan decide to make that building "net zero"? Of course not. But we do know that it was decided as far back in the 1990s to make SEFC a model of environmental sustainability.
Sullivan and the NPA mismanaged the entire Olympic village project, and when Vision was elected, they were able to save the taxpayers of Vancouver $90 million within the first couple of months by taking on responsibility for the loan to Millennium. Then they began to deal with the other issues that were created by the NPA.
Really? Vision have attacked critics by saying they've "saved" $90 million in interest payments to the developer, but they provide no proof because nobody knows what the actual interest rate is being charged to the developer. Further, the Globe and Mail's Gary Mason wrote that an internal report received by the City suggests there could be a $150-200 million shortfall on the project.
There are many who think that Vision's deal – which now moves all the risk back onto the backs of Vancouver taxpayers – could have been done better. For example, some say that it would have been better to bring in a Canadian lender. Or they didn't need to guarantee the loan.
Meanwhile, bloggers led by Daniel Fontaine, former chief of staff to Sullivan, and Michael Klassen, who also worked for Sullivan, have been bringing up every conceivable criticism of Vision's attempts to save the development, now called Millennium Water. They appear to have adopted the tactics of the Tea Party movement in the United States.
Tea Party, eh? Green does not limit his smears to Geller, but decides to repeat what he has said often on CKNW's Bill Good Show civic affairs panel, that we represent a local "Tea Party" movement. While I do not claim to fully understand what the Tea Party is, I realize that it is a populist, anti-government movement where its members are largely driven by the ideals of individualism, cutting social programs and slashing taxes. Its tactics include wide-ranging and persistent smear campaigns against sitting elected officials that have resulted in several incumbent losses.
The Tea Party movement also wants government to butt out of peoples' lives. It does not believe in human-induced climate change. It does not support expanding public health care in the USA. It is widely perceived as a "family values" conservative movement, and many Tea Party candidates oppose women's right to choose.
So, by lumping Daniel and myself into this movement of course he suggests that we stand for some or all of the above.
We see Geller waving the same flag, but he is also making comments that are negative toward low-income and working-class people. For instance, he says we cannot have the "wrong people" at the development, or we have to have people who "contribute" to society.
Jim Green in this last paragraph says that Michael Geller is not only a 'Tea Party' type as well, but also says that Geller doesn't like poor people and he thinks these people do not contribute to society. Do we need much more evidence of the mean-spirited, bullying viciousness of Vision Vancouver than this?
These prejudices are overwhelmingly against what has made Vancouver the great city it is.
Green suggests that Michael Geller, who has had to endure prejudice in his own life, is himself prejudiced against Vancouver's disadvantaged. Wow.
We can boast about former athletes' village being the most sustainable development in the world, but sustainability is made up of four pillars: environmental, economic, cultural and social. If we do not have the inclusivity that we promised and wrote into the guarantee section of our bid for the 2010 Olympics, we do not have a sustainable project.
If Vision Vancouver truly cared about housing disadvantaged people, don't you think they would work to house as many people as possible? To be economically sustainable, social housing cannot be on the highest-priced real estate in North America. Which is why this is not about housing poor people. Rather, it's about Vision having a trophy to show that they put social housing on Vancouver's waterfront.
Vision has pledged to be as true as possible to our guarantee, and is looking at every means possible to have social sustainability on the site.
It would appear that the NPA members are turning their backs on the history of their party. Gordon Campbell brought in the 20-per-cent rule. Philip Owen stayed true to this concept, but it was attacked and eroded during Sam Sullivan's short reign. Now, Geller is working to create an Executive City that does not allow for middle-income renters and residents of social housing.
Jim Green is calling Michael Geller an elitist. He says that Sam Sullivan in his short reign "eroded" the social contract of the City toward low-income people. But the facts don't bear this accusation out.
How many new social and supportive housing units has Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver created for this city since elected? We know that the answer is zero. We know that Sam Sullivan and the NPA got commitments for over 3800 units by the Provincial government, and that Larry Campbell and COPE got commitments for just over 500 units during their term. Two years in and a big goose egg for Gregor.
Geller is aware that when he says sell off social housing and build it elsewhere that adding 250 units to the marketplace from the exact same site will not help market the existing condo units.
Green ignores Geller's innovative suggestion to treat the land which the social and rental housing units are on as leasehold rather than freehold property. This is the way properties on Green's coveted South False Creek are handled, and it keeps housing more affordable.
He says we can build the social housing elsewhere. As a development consultant, he is aware that we could be looking at close to a decade to see completion of those units on another site, if at all. Certainly the NPA, given its current attitude, would not be in a hurry to see it happen if the party was returned to power.
The properties on the north shore of False Creek are ready to go if the funding is there. Enter into partnerships with non-profits and developers to build social housing on these lands. And don't forget about existing properties already owned by the City's Property Endowment. There are buildings that could be retrofitted at a reasonable cost and turned into social housing at a fraction of the cost of the SEFC units.
It is important for the people of Vancouver to know that when promises have been made, those promises will not be voided for political reasons. They need to know that promises made to communities are promises kept, and are not in danger of being done away with once approvals are in place.
I believe strongly that the people of Vancouver are motivated by caring for this city, and for others, and do not share the negative attitudes he is putting forward.
I believe the people of Vancouver want to live in harmony with one another and do not support a Vancouver that is spacially segregated, and that there are no "right and wrong" people, only people.
Green is arguing that social justice equals putting poor people (and union workers) in waterfront condos. In reality, social justice is helping people and finding them housing, health care and meaningful employment. Vision are trying to cloud this as a social justice issue, when in fact they're only after bragging rights. Green's attack on Michael Geller, and those made against other critics of Vision Vancouver in recent months are the true measure of Gregor Robertson and his government. They're just plain mean.
They are also about trying to get this issue off the table for the next election.
Jim Green is a former Coalition of Progressive Electors city councillor and ran for mayor with Vision Vancouver.
Yep, Jim Green almost became Vancouver's mayor.
UPDATE: Read Geller's full response to Green's smear in the Vancouver Sun.
For more background on the facts of how we got into this mess, read some previous feature reports regarding the Olympic Village development:
- Which way out of the Vancouver Olympic Village mess?
- Olympic Village decisions defined political differences
- Contradictions abound with Olympic spin out of control
- Geller's "reality check" on the Olympic Village
- Olmypic Village loan mess continues to confound
- Council's Olympic Village discussion must come out of the shadows
- post by Mike