COPE committed to 252 units of social housing at Olympic Village; Meggs keeps options open

COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth says her party will not back down from a commitment to develop 252 units of social housing at the Olympic Village.

“We have an affordable-housing crisis in this city,” Woodsworth told the Straight during a break in this afternoon’s planning and environment committee meeting. “If we don’t want to see more people homeless in the street, we have to do something about it.”

Woodsworth made her comment two days after council received a staff report outlining sharply higher costs for the 252 social-housing units at Southeast False Creek. COPE has only one other member on council: David Cadman.

City staff initially estimated the price at $65 million, but now those units are expected to cost $110 million. That works out to an average price of approximately $440,000 per unit of social housing at the Olympic Village.

“We have now bought out Fortress [the lender],” Woodsworth added. “We are going to be saving quite a bit of money in terms of interest rates. COPE doesn’t think we should pass those savings onto Millennium [the developer]. Millennium has got us in this situation we’re in. But we could use those savings to apply to the cost overruns on the affordable housing units--and make sure we keep those affordable housing units.”

The Straight asked Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs if he remains committed to keeping 252 units of affordable housing on the Olympic Village site. “I think we’ll have to figure out how much it’s going to cost and what the options are going to be,” Meggs replied, “but I remain committed to affordable housing down there, yes.”

The Straight then asked Meggs, who speaks for Vision Vancouver's  seven city councillors  on Olympics-related issues, if he would favour building more social-housing units at another location if this could be done at the same price and still house more people.

“That’s one of the options I think taxpayers have to see before they make a decision--before we make a decision--because of the cost of the units there could be quite high,” Meggs said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a situation where we’ll have no units there. My preference would be to have the full 252, but I don’t have the information right now to make a decision. I don’t think we could have a neighbourhood like that that doesn’t include affordable housing. And the number that was there was already too low from my standpoint, but all of the financial parameters have changed dramatically.”

Woodsworth told the Straight that she’s unsure if the non-COPE members of council share her commitment to build 252 units of social housing at the Olympic Village. “It’s not clear what their positions are at this point,” she said. “I think everybody is concerned about cost overruns.”