Olympic Village, False Creek North and the DTES: How best to achieve socially diverse communities?

Post by Michael Geller in


The north shore of False Creek will have less social mix thanks to Vision Vancouver

This week, Vancouver City Council will consider another major proposal for the North Shore of False Creek. Concord Pacific is proposing to build four new high-rise towers at the north end of the Cambie Bridge that will comprise approximately 900 condominium units. Under the city's long-standing policy, 20% of these units are required to be some form of 'social housing'. However, in this case, the developer is proposing to donate two properties along Hastings Street in lieu of providing sites for 180 social housing units within the development.

I do not fault Concord Pacific, who has created a very impressive community along the North Shore of False Creek, for making this proposal. It is both fair and reasonable from its point of view. Furthermore, some Downtown Eastside activists are encouraging Council to acquire these properties to prevent the development of more condominiums.

However, I do question City staff, who based on Jeff Lee's story in Saturday's Vancouver Sun, are recommending approval of this proposal; and I am surprised by the response by Councillor Geoff Meggs who, according to comments made in the same story, appears to reluctantly support the proposal as well.

I have a number of concerns if the City approves this proposal. The main one is that it will reduce social housing in an area where it is required in accordance with the City's longstanding policy; and add social housing where it is not needed, namely on a site in the Downtown Eastside right next to another large social housing project.

I am also concerned since last year the city refused to sell the social housing at the Olympic Village because of the importance of maintaining the City's policy requiring socially diverse communities. This despite the fact that a sale would have allowed the City to recover $110 million spent on these units, and saved $65 million in ongoing subsidies.

Finally, I do not want the city to approve this proposal since there is a much better solution.

In order to explain this, let me give you a bit of background. The Council's 20% policy, put in place during the regime of Gordon Campbell, does not required the developer to build the social housing, nor is he required to donate the land. Rather, he is required to set aside social housing sites to be purchased by the city at a reduced cost. The purchase price is set out in a somewhat complicated formula; but it is generally one third to half of what the land would be worth as a condominium site.

In some limited instances, the City has accepted a 'payment-in-lieu' of providing a social housing site. This happened at the Bayshore project when I was the Development Manager.

The amount of the payment was determined to be the difference between the site's value for market housing, and its value for social housing.

In the case of the North Shore of False Creek, according to Jeff Lee's story, Concord has set aside 15 social housing sites. However, the city has only developed 6 of them. The city has not acquired the other properties since it does not have the necessary funds to even purchase them, let alone develop them.

When I proposed that the city sell the social housing at the Olympic Village, I also suggested that some of the proceeds be used to acquire some of these vacant social housing sites from Concord. Unfortunately, this idea was rejected.

However, I now have another suggestion.

Rather than accept Concord's two properties along Hastings Street valued at $13 million , why not ask Concord to donate social housing sites along the North Shore of False Creek with an equal value? These sites can then be developed with funding from senior levels of government. Alternatively, if as I suspect, such funding is not likely to be forthcoming, the City could issue Proposal Calls for a reduced number of social housing units combined with other types of affordable housing. I am confident that many non-profits and private developers would be keen to respond, at no cost to the city.

This approach will accomplish two important things. It will help the city meet its goal of a more socially diverse community at False Creek North, and avoid a further concentration of social housing in the DTES. One only has to look at the recent creative proposal by Westbank and Vancity at 60 West Cordova to imagine what might be possible on Concord's larger Hastings Street property. Another option could include condominiums combined with affordable housing for local and international artists, something explored by SFU and the City last year.

The result will be two more socially balanced communities; one along the North Shore of False Creek, and another in the DTES. Now, what's wrong with that?

- post by Michael Geller. Michael is an architect, planner and property developer. Three decades ago, he was CMHC's Program Manager-Social Housing and Special Coordinator for Phase One development along the South Shore False Creek.



maybe Jim Green will finally eat some crow on the CKNW show with you tomorrow. All he talks about is how opposed he is to building ghettos. I wonder what he thinks of this news. I'll tune in.

And when does the park get built????

I am against adding addtional social housing into the DTES until we as a society get a handle on all of the issues that area already faces.

I feel badly for the residents of Chinatown having to live with the festering wound that is the DTES.

Low income families and seniors should not have to live in the area simply due to economic circumstance.

Build social housing throughout the city and give some people a chance to have a better life.

Who would willingly want to have their children living in a unit next to inSite?

At Christmas I participated in the Homeless Partners program. I had 3 parcels to deliver out - 2 to an outreach centre and one to a converted SRO.

I walked 1.5 blocks and witnessed 3 drug deals in that short distance. This was 11:30 in the morning.

No more social housing down there until the drug issues are dealt with.

Michael Geller.
Right on. Great post.

My problem with the term 'social housing' these days is that it has become a blanket term for "what"?
It is too vague.
Is social housing for the hard to house, drug addicted,seniors,young families,impoverished singles?
Do you mix everybody together?

Each person is different.

As someone I know said :

"When I was whacked on crack, I couldn't afford a SRO.

Off drugs:
I now have a home,a family and a good career."

Exactly, boohoo!

I am also interested in keeping more social housing out of the DTES, which already shoulders an incredible amount of the social housing problem.

I like many aspects of this proposal from from M. Geller. And agree with boohoo that the park amenity that Concord has been promising FOR YEARS, must bear fruit. For one thing, tax them on the true value of that land!!

This is another development scandal, that needs to face the cold, hard light of media scrutiny and judgement of the taxpayers.

I would actually be interested in who qualifies these days for social housing. We talk about arriving at a "mix" within these communities but it seems that the mix is really only two levels, those that can afford a million dollar condo and those that qualify for social housing...it seems to me that there is a huge part of the "mix" in the middle that doesn't fit either criterea.

I am all for social housing, and agree that pushing everyone into the dtes is not the solution, but what sort of mix are we reallly creating? Does the family on who's struggling to make ends meet benefit from being part of a community of Porsche owners?

20% mix made sense to me when average families could afford a house in Vancouver....but simply shoe horning the poor into housing built for the incredibly wealthy doesn't seem like the right answer at this point. When the middle is squeezed out you have to question whether you are truly building a "community" at all.

The Thought of The Night

"Having a social element in a multi-millionaires community it’s like having The Queen of England ask little Suzy from Medicine Hat, Alberta to attend her nephew’s weeding. It is good PR. Makes them Royals feel good! Karma. People will visit. Though, it’s still going to remain a ‘lookie no touchie’ affair.”

Plus, all those rich guys, don’t they hate it when they cannot gate their community? Hey, I’m not against it!

But do anyone remember the destruction of the Little Mountain Co-op, with the full support of the Vision Council and The Mayor? It was only last year. That was a good example of a Bullshit proposal. A juicy one!
Apparently,it was agreed, by the development community and the City, that the little piece of land adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Park was too valuable to leave it to the poor War World II veterans and families for whom it was built.

I liked Michael post. It has...a different view from the Olly Village ‘Alphabet People do not mix’ post of few weeks/ months ago. It smells better. Not a 'stone' soup anymore, I’ll say this one is a Barley – Nava beans soup with lots of spices. Yummy!

Having said that, I'd like to give my Two Pence on a 'slippery' matter... the words ‘social’, ‘affordable’, ‘low rental’ followed by ‘housing’ have the same effect on you the voting citizen... as ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, ‘low flush’, ‘passive solar design’, ‘net zero energy’, ‘geo-thermal’ words followed by ‘buildings’ has on the prospective condo buyer ... as ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘free run/ range’, ‘not from concentrate’, ‘ethical’, ‘free trade’ has on you the health conscious consumer...as ‘global warming’, ‘ozone layer depletion’, ‘carbon offset’ followed by ...Al Gore, has on you the neurotic, stressed out City squirrel.

All these ‘words’ are there to keep you in the game, in ‘check’ if you may, in the grand scheme of semantics, they are after all clever euphemisms, used to make you feel better before they administer your scheduled colonoscopy.
What, you didn’t know you’re due for one?
But you are my friend, but you are!
Now that you know, you have a head start. Use it wisely.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Good post. If I follow the questions are

1. How much social housing is needed in the DTES and how much is too much?

2. How do we foster integrated communities with market and social housing and should this be a goal (I think it should be, but there are quite a few NIMBYs around)

3. What is social housing anyway and who should have access?

4. How do we support a mix of high-end, affordable and social housing in the city, including a good mix of rental housing?

Great to see some discussion of these questions in the comments.

I have one more to add re co-op social housing.

Once a family downsizes - kids move out on their own, why is it not part of a the initial contract that the unit size is downsized as well.

From what I understand at the exisiting False Creek co-op, there are people living in 2 and 3 bedroom units even though they may now be empty-nesters or singles.

This would help house families, which I think is harder to do than housing singles or a couple.

A better question might be "Do we want socially diverse communities?"
I for one would never live anywhere near the DTES. Drunks, addicts and criminals are best kept in jails or mental facilities, not next door.

Co-ops are actually different from subsidized housing.
People buy a share and it's theirs.
My biggest concern is the amount of family housing (subsidized by the City,the Province etc.) that have one person living in them now.
Their kids have grown and left and the parent still lives in a 3 bedroom family unit.

They just leave their kids names on the lease.

There are even family units that the original person on the lease has moved out and their kids stay on!

Audit anybody?

It is interesting, one commenter stated that:"Does the family on who's struggling to make ends meet benefit from being part of a community of Porsche owners?"
Which causes you think about how many of our neighbourhoods have changed over time and how those so-called Porsche owners have had no problem moving into working class, or lower income class neighbourhoods with no perceived detriment to those in that upper income class - why is it not beneficial the other way? Is it not better to have communities that are diverse in income structure so that we do not get these sterile communities based upon exclusivity.
It has been shown time and time again that if we structure communities based upon social or income class that it then entrenches that community and in turn provides little in the way of impetus or ability for individuals to move beyond those communities - a poor child from a poor neighbourhood stays poor as an adult.
Having a diverse community is to exemplify the sense of equality and purport the potential of it's citizenry.
If we become a city of gated communities like many cities in the US then the vibrancy and character of our city will be lost.


I think you missed my point. My point was not that we shouldn't mix economically diverse groups, but rather that the mix is becoming less diverse. Rather than having varying economic levels in a given community, I question whether we're not going to end up with rich & poor (for lack of better terminology) and nothing in between...social housing will give those at the "bottom" a way in, but everyone in the middle will be forced to move elsewhere because the city is simply "unaffordable" for the average family.

That being said, there is then the "resentment" that can come from that...I've heard many a person complain about the "social housing" elements of the new Olympic village, where select groups/professions are given a way in...and others who work very hard, but are not in those groups, think "that's BS, why do they get to live there and I can't".

With the middle getting squeezed, you end up with resentment of both the rich AND the poor by the middle, because they are the ones left out of the entire equation.

Just thinking out loud here folks, and commenting on observations...I'm certainly no expert in social housing!

This was sent through to me and I am posting it jsut for fun...

Subject: The Tax System Explained In Beer

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer & the bill for all ten comes to $100.

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this :

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1
The sixth would pay $3
The seventh would pay $7
The eighth would pay $12
The ninth would pay $18
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve ball.

"Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20". Drinks for the ten men would now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes.

So the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men- the paying customers?

How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?

They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by a higher percentage the poorer he was, to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using, and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.

And so the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100%saving).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% saving).
The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% saving).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% saving).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% saving).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% saving).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their savings.

"I only got a dollar out of the $20 saving," declared the sixth man.

He pointed to the tenth man, "but he got $10!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar too. It's unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me!"

"That's true!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back, when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison, "we didn't get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how our tax system works.

The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most benefit from a tax reduction..

Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore.

In fact, they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics.

For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

Tis' the Tax season Max?
Let me refresh your memory. Some people sit on million dollars properties throughout Vancouver while the province gives them a little 'helper dough' to pay their property taxes, last treshold I heard is 1,1 mill. dollars...'cause, as the the legend goes the government is going to recoup the monies after they...die. This my friend, is the biggest con perpetrated on anyone who doesn't own property in BC. If one cannot afford the property taxes why don't they borrow...from the family, Friends, Banks, like the most of the people, and pay it back with some interest, like the most of people or using their 'good house rich' credit?
As per 'David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.'- since when an economics professor with a PhD (which is the bogus degree annotation for too much time on your hands ot too much money to burn)has become a paragon of knowledge?
Let me remind you, that 99 out 100 economists heavily misdiagnosed the Financial Disaster of 2008 and to this day they still have no clue of where we are going. Self entitled paper prophets.
Yeah I got your joke. Only this time the joke's on you. Max.

Glissando, LOL.

"Having said that, I'd like to give my Two Pence on a 'slippery' matter... the words ‘social’, ‘affordable’, ‘low rental’ followed by ‘housing’ have the same effect on you the voting citizen... as ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, ‘low flush’, ‘passive solar design’, ‘net zero energy’, ‘geo-thermal’ words followed by ‘buildings’ has on the prospective condo buyer ... as ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘free run/ range’, ‘not from concentrate’, ‘ethical’, ‘free trade’ has on you the health conscious consumer...as ‘global warming’, ‘ozone layer depletion’, ‘carbon offset’ followed by ...Al Gore, has on you the neurotic, stressed out City squirrel."

This is the best new age 'euphemisms' explanation I've read by far. A must read. And be aware of that colonoscopy people...ouch!

@ Higgins:

Wow my friend.

I posted the 'joke' as nothing more than a joke.

Sorry to upset you.

Oh gosh Max, that beer analogy (and other variations) for taxation is so old and is utterly inaccurate.
But you are right it is laughable.

Right on, Jason.

The middle class, from whom the bulk of taxes are collected, turns out to be the joker in this house of cards.

Except the joke is on us.

God, forgotten about that, Higgins. Thanks for reminding me---i think.

I think max was making a joke.

I certainly don't ascibeto the the "money will take flight!' argument, often proposes as a way to keep the very wealthy happy.

We have lots of multi millionaires here, who have provided businesses and jobs and presumably paid some tax. They like it here, and know they have it good, compared to other places in this ol' world, so they stay.

As for real estate gadfly's with "no skin in the game" other than property, can't speak for them...

This is interesting;

The Vancouver business community is stepping in with an ambitious goal of raising millions of dollars and building supportive housing for the homeless, but will it be enough to make a difference?

Through the Streetohome foundation, business leaders are hoping to raise $26.5 million to build permanent supportive housing in Vancouver. The housing won't just act as shelter, it will also provide a place where the homeless can get help dealing with mental illness and addictions.


Check out BCWineLover.com!

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