Saturday, October 9, 2010

My first response to Jim Green's mean-spirited and dishonest Op-Ed in today's Vancouver Sun.

I was shocked and disturbed this morning to find the following article by Jim Green prominently displayed on the Op-Ed Page of today's Vancouver Sun. I have sent a response to the Sun, but would like to address some of his points one by one. My comments are in red, because frankly, that's what I'm seeing at the moment!

Prejudice against social housing is not a Vancouver value.

Michael Geller is not telling us the truth about social housing. But he is telling us the truth about the Non-Partisan Association. I don't speak for the Non-Partisan Association, But I'll let you read on...

Geller is telling us that the city should sell off social housing at the Olympic village. This is true, to recover the $110,000,000 it has cost, and avoid the $62,000,000 in subsidy costs for 126 social housing units. The remaining units are market rental. 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 said you should not mix people of the A class with people from B, C, D and E classes. This is absolutely not true, and Mr. Green knows it. Anyone who has read Daphne Bramham's front page story or any of my recent posts on this blog knows that too I'll explain further later on. 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. The notion of five socio-economic quintiles is something I learned about while at CMHC. Mr. Green is correct that many of those he describes facing difficulties in life are considered by housing providers to be in the fifth quintile.

Geller clearly states that none of this cohort of people from the Downtown Eastside should be allowed to live on the property. By 'on the property' I assume he means in the first 126 social housing units. Does Mr. Green think they should be allowed to live in these units.

Geller is also saying there should not be supportive housing on the site. If this means the kind of housing provided by the Portland Housing Society, he is correct. I am sure that Geller knows that the City of Vancouver plan is for families and seniors/singles, not supportive housing. I do know that this was the original intention. However, once I heard that the Portland Hotel Society was being considered as the social housing manager, I had some doubts. Indeed, Mark Townsend of PHS has said that he would like to include some of this population. However, if some one later in life requires supports, it would not be logical to have them moved from Olympic Village. Agreed

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. I have not been approaching 'every media outlet'; however many, including Global TV, the CBC, CKNW, the Globe and Mail, and Vancouver Sun have approached me, because my suggestions which I have been posting on my blog for the past year re: selling the units made sense to many people.

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. I appreciate the kind words. Yes, I was the federal government's Special Coordinator for South False Creek while working for CMHC

Subsequent to the South False Creek project, in the 1980s, the City of Vancouver under Gordon Campbell as mayor, adopted a policy of 20-per-cent 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. Mr. Green should know that this is not quite true. At Bayshore, while we built the Performing Arts Lodge for seniors, we did not build any low income family housing because we were concerned that given the location and community infrastructure, it was not suitable. Instead, we made a 'payment in lieu' to support social housing in the Downtown Eastside. Mr. Green knows this because he helped me convince the Council of the day to allow this arrangement. This is how I first met him. And don't let him say he doesn't remember, because I reminded him of it at 9:45 last Tuesday morning during a commercial break on the CKNW Bill Good Show where we regularly appear on the Civic Affairs panel (We'll be doing it again this coming Tuesday at might want to listen in). 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. Mr. Green, what position am I putting forward that is not true? Surely you would not compare the very high end, luxurious condos at Olympic Village with the Woodwards condos targetted to edgy creatives and others who don't want to move to the suburbs?

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. Key to the unification of our citizens? Give me a break. It's a model that was only achievable in the 70's given the significant amount of federal and provincial subsidy dollars available.

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 did reduce the amount of social housing, after staff calculated the subsidy bill since there wasn't federal and provincial money to subsidize it. He then proceeded to add luxury to the market condos, Hello! Sam Sullivan added luxury to the condos? This is really getting ridiculous. The developer and his marketing advisor Bob Rennie decided upon the program, not Sam Sullivan. and expensive sustainability requirements, including extremely expensive systems onto the social housing, which made for the most expensive social housing in the world. Now this is most interesting. You say Sam Sullivan is responsible for raising the bar on sustainability standards for the social housing. I'm sure others may have something to say about this...

The seniors building at the Olympic village is net zero (energy) — I know of no other social housing project anywhere that is net zero, it is so costly to build. Well Jim, you don't get around very much. There are net zero energy social housing projects all over Europe. I agree that the units are very expensive, and that's why I thought they should have been sold to young professionals and others who would appreciate and pay for the cache such a project offers...

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. Mr. Green, the current Council has not saved the taxpayers $90 million. What it has done is taken over the loan. If it is all paid off, as I hope it will be, it will have saved the developer a lot of money in interest costs. If it is not paid off, then the city will lose money. Is this not correct? Or am I missing something? Then they began to deal with the other issues that were created by the NPA.

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. I'll let them respond to this.

We see Geller waving the same flag, which flag, the Tea Party flag? You've got to be kidding! but he is also making comments that are negative toward low-income and working-class people. Mr. Green, I have not made any negative comments toward low-income and working class people. What I have said is that the city should not allow, or give the impression of allowing the Hard-to-house to live in the first phase social housing units, and I'm told the Mayor and city staff are saying the same thing. For instance, he says we cannot have the “wrong people” at the development, or we have to have people who “contribute” to society. Or we have to have people who “contribute” to society. Can you please point out even one example of me saying anything like this? I never have. All I keep saying is that we should not be accommodating the hard to house in the first phase social housing, something that Frances Bula and others assure me is not going to happen.

These prejudices are overwhelmingly against what has made Vancouver the great city it is. What prejudices?

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. Exactly, and subsidizing 126 social housing units to the tune of $62 million is not economically sustainable. Does Mr. Green not agree? 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. Nonsense. I have been suggesting all sorts of inclusivity...just not the Hard-to-house. Do you not agree Mr. Green?

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. Mr. Green should just stop and read what he just wrote. Where have I ever suggested that I want to create an Executive City that does not allow for middle-income renters? The fact is, the community already has about 129 middle income rental suites, developed by Millennium. Is he not aware of this? He should be. He was once a consultant to Millennium on this project.

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.I am not aware of this at all. And if you had taken the time to read just a portion of what I have written you will see that I have laid out a very good plan to distinguish these units from the more expensive condominiums. But Mr. Green, I have already said I realize that the city is not going to sell these units and have agreed to move on. If you had not written your nasty op-ed, I would not be commenting at all on Olympic Village. I hoped I was finished.

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. I disagree entirely. I am happy to suggest a number of ways of building or acquiring new social housing if that was the only concern. Certainly the NPA, given its current attitude, would not be in a hurry to see it happen if the party was returned to power. I will let the NPA respond to this. I do not speak for them. Nor do I pretend to. Which is one of the reasons this entire attack by Mr. Green seems so outrageous.

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 basically agree with this. But when circumstances change, rational people also need to change their decisions. I don't remember anyone promising the taxpayers that these units would cost $110 million and require $62 million in subsidies, or sit empty for six months after the Olympics. Do you Mr. Green?

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. Well Mr. Green, I too care for this city. But I have been astounded by the number of people who do agree with what I have been saying....not what you say I have been saying....but what I have been saying. The editorials in the Vancouver Sun and Province are two such examples...

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. Mr. Green, you might want accompany city staff to a Public Hearing some time. The reality is that the segregation of a city into different neighbourhoods, appealing to different social and economic groups is very much a reality in Vancouver. That's why housing activists in the Downtown Eastside have opposed my call for more middle income residents in that community. But that's another story, isn't it?

Jim Green is a former Coalition of Progressive Electors city councillor and ran for mayor with Vision Vancouver.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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To be honest, I really don't understand the motivation for this nasty article. On the Bill Good Show Jim Green and I generally get along and have a good exchange of ideas. However, at the last segment, he said I was speaking out about the Olympic Village as part of an election campaign. I assured him, on air, that I had no intention of running. And this episode has convinced me that I have made the right decision.

The fact is, I realized some time ago that I am not cut out for politics. Instead, I want to continue to continue as an architect and planner, real estate consultant and developer. I want to work in Vancouver and other municipalities. I am not looking for battles, especially with the current council or city staff. I need to be able to work with them. As one commentator said to me recently, I like trying to get along with people.

I hope this issue will eventually subside. However, I do feel very concerned that this article will alter the way some people see me. And that's damage that will be difficult to undo.


Another Michael said...

Michael, it hasn't changed the way many of us feel about you or your rational views on these important issues. Your expertise, opinions, and experience are much valued.
What is HAS changed is to confirm the nasty side of Mr. Green and Vision - it is clear that they will throw anyone "under the bus" when it is convenient for them. This op-ed piece reflects far more negatively on them than on you.

Anonymous said...

Ditto Another Michael. Once again the thuggery Jim Green is famous for is at the fore. Your rational and common sense ideas will prevail in the end.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Michael for having the courage to speak truthfully and realistically on the OV situation.

Do not despair - Jim Green's desperate and baseless attack on you merely serves to prove his own character and how low he'll go to achieve his ends. Hmm sounds so like Vision, no?

Anonymous said...

Jim Green should be ashamed of himself for what he wrote. Political debate is one thing, but accusing people of being prejudiced and linked to the christian right wing, anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-government movement of the US is completely over the top. I guess as an American himself, Jim would be intimately familiar with these kind of drive by smears. Isn't this supposed to be a debate over civic politics in Vancouver? Maybe Jim is getting caught up in all the hype of the congressional elections being held in his home country.

I would be contacting my lawyer if I were Geller or anybody else mentioned in that trashy column. I know that's what Green would do if he were on the receiving end of these lies and spurious attacks. This is a new low, even for Jim. Take it to court I say and let's see if Green wants to back up his claims in front of a judge. Can you say slander?

Anonymous said...

I for one question your credibility, Mr.Geller. As evidence, I will point out the fact that you spun Mr.Green's words to portray him as less than honest, when in fact, it is you who is less than honest.

You distort Green's quote, which was: 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.

Your spin: I have not been approaching 'every media outlet'; however many, including Global TV, the CBC, CKNW, the Globe and Mail, and Vancouver Sun have approached me, because my suggestions which I have been posting on my blog for the past year re: selling the units made sense to many people.

He never accused you of approaching anyone. But you readily admit that you have been 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.

I just wonder what other distortions are in your repertoire. Perhaps you should run for office.

Anonymous said...

Great posts, especially this one – thank you! :-)

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