Sit-in ends at Olympic athletes' village
Housing advocates staged a short-lived sit-in at the former site of Vancouver's Olympic athletes' village on Thursday to protest the lack of affordable and social housing in the massive condo development.
A group of four activists entered the condo late Thursday afternoon posing as potential buyers, but told the realtor showing them the property they planned on staying there for the next 11 hours.
Several hours later, the activists were escorted out by police, with a police spokesman saying they had left voluntarily and would not face charges.
The activists wanted to pressure the city to restore its promises to set aside many of the units in the development for social housing. Currently, about 125 of 1,100 units will be set aside for low-income residents, which is far less than what the city had originally promised.
"I think it's abominable, but also I think very typical of what you see in this city," said Sarah Stevenson of the group Vancouver Action, standing outside the athletes' village development as her fellow activists peered out a window several storeys up.
"We have this concurrent trend of homelessness and a lack of development from the city for social housing. Whenever there's a financial crisis, the first thing to go is social housing."
That's exactly what happened with the athletes' village project. The developer's original lender stopped paying its loan, forcing the city to secure hundreds of millions of dollars to finish the project.
In April, city council voted to set aside 252 units for restricted rentals, but only half of those will be considered affordable housing. The rest will be rented out at market rates -- about $1,600 a month for a one-bedroom unit -- to people whose incomes are below a certain threshold.
The city had previously said all of those 252 units would be affordable housing, but the mayor later explained that would be too expensive.
Still, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has claimed the 125 units for low-income residents fulfills the city's promises to include affordable housing within the village.
At the protest on Thursday, several dozen supporters waited outside one of the Olympic village condo buildings waiting to learn whether police would allow the activists to stay in the suite for the full 11 hours.
But after about three hours, one of the protesters was driven out of the building's indoor parking garage in a police cruiser, while the others were removed out of sight of reporters.
"We came up with an agreement and they've left voluntarily and there are no charges," said Vancouver police Insp. Tony Zanatta.
"There's a balance to be struck. They have a position and (the developer) has a position and has a right to the use and enjoyment of their property. My goal is to strike a balance between the two without anyone getting hurt, and that's what happened today."
Earlier, one of the activists inside the condo said the goal was to keep attention on the issue, and promised more protests to come.
"We've been to city hall, various people have been involved with different levels of the process, and this is us responding to the recent decisions by the mayor and the council to hand out promised social housing to the market," Nate, a 25-year-old who declined to provide his last name, said in a telephone interview.
"I'm sure this will be part of making the issue public, which is one of our aims. This is our initial action in a series of actions."