Future of social housing at Athlete's Village remains uncertain
When the City of Vancouver bid for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, it pledged to create a legacy of affordable housing at the Athlete's Village in southeast False Creek.
The original plan called for one-third of the units to be turned into social housing.
Then, that number was reduced to 20 per cent.
Now, with days to go until the start of the Games, even that number is in doubt.
"The reality is the cost of that development and the way it was managed in earlier stages has got us in a predicament where we have to get the value back out for taxpayers from the sale of the whole village," Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told CTV News.
Robertson said he is committed to having a social-housing legacy from the Games, but the social housing might have to be developed on adjacent land – not at the Athlete's Village.
"There may be an opportunity to actually build more social housing across the street or on the land next door," he said.
If that option is chosen, it is unclear what the city would do with the 250 units that had been intended for social housing.
Robertson acknowledges that the city can't sell those units because that would put it in direct competition with the sale of units in the rest of the village.
Consultant and former city Councillor Jim Green said the city should follow through with its commitment and keep social housing on the site.
"We made a promise to the world that we would be an inclusive city. That was part of our Olympic promise," he said.
"We have to find a way to finance that social housing without moving it off site."
Green suggests the city find land elsewhere to build market housing and use that to pay down the debt on the social housing at the site.
He adds that it would take at least five years to develop another site for social housing.
NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton doesn't think it makes sense to have social housing on the site and suggests maybe the city could rent out the 250 units for a couple years.
She is also opposed to the idea of the city building social housing. It would be much more cost efficient for the city to buy existing units and turn them into social housing, she said.
"To buy is cheaper, easier, faster."
The concept of developing a socially-mixed community has worked in the city before.
It happened in southwest False Creek.
Forty years ago, the city launched a vision to transform the former industrial land into a community that would accommodate two-thirds low- and middle-income earners. It worked.
"People come from all over the world and say, how did you guys do this and how did you succeed?" said former Premier Mike Harcourt.
Harcourt was at city hall when the neighbourhood underwent the transformation, thanks to a robust federal housing program.
Studies show that years later, the neighbourhood is still diverse.
"We don't want an executive city or a ghetto, we want a mix of people," he said.
Robertson said a decision on the future of social housing at the Athlete's Village will likely be made in March.
Anton said a decision should have been made by now.
"I think it's a failure of leadership on the part of the mayor that he's not willing to state prior to the Olympics what he wants to do with that," she said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Mi-Jung Lee