Monday, November 30, 2009

Social Housing at Olympic Village: a third option

On Friday November 27, the Vancouver Courier had a story headlined "City Hall to soon decide about Olympic Village social housing". While I was called by the reporter, the highly respected Cheryl Rossi, my comments and suggestions didn't make it into the story that mentioned three possible scenarios, none of which I agree with. They were:
  • selling the units as market housing;
  • keeping the units as social housing, as intended; and
  • selling the units as market rental housing.
I believe there is a much better solution, based on the affordable housing model created for the Verdant project at UniverCity, about which I have written before. I briefly describe it in the following Letter to the Editor, that I have sent off and am printing below:

I enjoyed reading Cheryl Rossi's column and would like to offer a few observations. I agree with Councillor Woodsworth that it would be 'highly inequitable' for the Olympic Village development to be just for the wealthy. However, it is not necessary to keep all 252 units as traditional 'social housing' in order to ensure a broader social mix. The city could achieve this by offering some or all of these units for sale as affordable ownership housing at prices that would cover its development costs. Priority could be given to firefighters, police officers, Vancouver school teachers and others who would like to live close to where they work. To avoid competition with Millennium's market units, these units could be sold as leasehold, rather than freehold. The city could also impose conditions to ensure the units remain affordable over time. It could also require a 'right of first refusal' whenever the units come back on the market so that they could be bought back and used as future social housing, once the city's financial situation at Southeast False Creek improves. While I would not normally advocate this position, the reality is that depending on how much Millennium can pay for the land from the sale of the market units, the city could still be facing a loss of tens of millions of dollars, or more, on the first phase of SEFC. For this reason, the responsible position is to cut our losses, knowing that new social housing can be built on adjacent sites and many of these units could revert to social housing in the future.

While there are many current civic issues about which I feel quite strongly, this is one subject about which I feel quite passionately. I hate the thought of the Property Endowment Fund losing tens of millions of dollars, because of decisions made in the past, and I therefore hope others will begin to appreciate that there are more than two options for the future of the social housing units at Olympic Village. This option could achieve a social mix, and potentially save the city millions of dollars.


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