Jenny Kwan's open letter to premier on Olympic Village social housing

NDP MLA Jenny Kwan sent the following open letter to Premier Gordon Campbell today (February 19):

19 February 2009

Hon. Gordon Campbell
Room 156, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4

Open letter about housing at the Athlete’s Village

Dear Premier Campbell:

The Inner City Inclusive Commitment statement stated that VANOC and the government partners would "provide an affordable housing legacy and start planning now".

The Athlete's Village was touted to be the key housing legacy arising from the 2010 Olympics. It began with a commitment of seeing the housing development divided into 1/3 affordable housing, 1/3 middle-income housing and 1/3 market housing. Soon after former Mayor Sam Sullivan was elected, that commitment was reduced to 20% social housing and 80% high-end market housing. And now, as a result of the poor management of the Athlete's Village project by the previous Council, there could be further reductions of the number of units of affordable housing. It was revealed that there is a shortfall of up to $77 million for the affordable housing component of the Olympic Village project.

I am writing to call on the Provincial Government to partner with the City of Vancouver and VANOC to deliver the reduced promise of 252 units of affordable housing at the Olympic Village site at a minimum. Rather than having the project viewed as a broken promise, your government could act now to ensure that at least some components of the promised Olympic housing legacy materializes. As you are aware, Vancouver taxpayers already have to bail out the developer with the high-end condominium for this project, it would be an absolute shame if the social housing component of the project were lost at this time. VANOC's recent sustainability report stated that it had a ”˜commitment with the City of Vancouver to provide a post-Games non-market housing legacy of 250 units in the Olympic and Paralympic Village”¦in Southeast False Creek.”

Failure to deliver this promise is an affront to the many people who trusted those in leadership roles to fulfill the commitment. In addition, it will no doubt be an international embarrassment and highlight the glaring missed opportunity to do the right thing.

Finally, homelessness has more than doubled in Metro Vancouver under your government's watch. Street homelessness has risen to 364%. British Columbia is in critical need of a permanent housing program. Budget 2009 did not offer an increase in BC Housing's operating budget. Instead, it was hit with a $96 million cut. Surely you don't think that the homelessness crisis has ended because of the announcement of the purchase of some SROs and the opening of temporary emergency shelters. On November 7, 2007 the BC government and the City of Vancouver announced the creation of 1200 new social housing units on 12 city-owned sites. At the time, Minister Rich Coleman stated that “it’s a bold move, and we’re aiming to get construction underway on at least six of these sites within a year.” Despite these assurances, no construction has begun on these sites and the provincial government has failed to allocate any funding for these projects in their 2009 budget. This is in direct contrast to their Throne Speech promise of “new investments in housing that will improve and expand our social housing stock.”

As well, I note that the Federal Government's recent announcement for its housing program is limited to family, aboriginal and seniors housing only. Other housing priorities are prohibited. So it appears that federal infrastructure money is precluded for these sites. Even with this knowledge, your government has failed to allocate funds in Budget 2009 to ensure that construction begins albeit later than the time frame you had promised. Though better late than never, I am writing to call on you to immediately allocate the necessary funding for these sites so that homes could be built for those in greatest need.

I look forward to a positive response to these two urgent requests.

Thanking you for your attention.


Jenny Wai Ching Kwan, MLA
Vancouver-Mt. Pleasant

cc: Mayor and Council