B.C. housing minister reluctant to help save Olympic Village social units

The City of Vancouver hasn’t asked the province for help in saving the 252 units of social housing planned for the Olympic Village, according to B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman.

But city staff has sought a meeting with B.C. Housing to discuss the social-housing component of the $1-billion project which might face the axe because of cost escalations.

That meeting may be held this Friday (February 27), but at this point the province has no intention of stepping into the athletes’ village issue, Coleman said yesterday (February 24) in the legislature.

Coleman was responding to questions about budget estimates for his ministry from Vancouver-Mount Pleasant NDP MLA Jenny Kwan during the afternoon sitting.

Kwan asked “whether or not the minister had turned his mind to this housing initiative that is meant to be a legacy of the Olympics”.

“We’re not involved,” Coleman said, as recorded in Hansard. “There was $15 million given to VANOC by the province, I believe it was, and $15 million from the federal government to the affordable housing that was anticipated being on the Olympic village site. We’ve not been involved, nor have we been asked to get involved at any level.”

The minister continued, “I’ve had what would be called casual conversations with people in the city but not about them asking us to get involved, just to sort of see how they were doing and that sort of thing with the project.”

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson had indicated to the Straight in a February 20 interview that moving the social-housing units out of the village and into another area of Southeast False Creek is one of the options that may be considered by the city.

Kwan also asked Coleman what kind of commitment the province will make if the city asks for its help.

Coleman responded, “It would be from our standpoint a hard look at what the costs are if we were to get involved and whether it made sense or not for the particular housing or whether the dollars were too excessive and would be better invested in social housing in the city that we’re doing. There is not a pool of capital sitting around that government is prepared to go running into the Olympic village on.”

Kwan reminded the minister that “when the province and the city of Vancouver went out to try to get the Olympics, one of the very specific commitments was around leaving a social housing legacy, a housing legacy”.

“Certainly, the city of Vancouver taxpayers are being asked to contribute towards this legacy only to find there’s nothing to show for it except for, you know, million-dollar condos,” Kwan said.

Coleman replied, “We’ve not been involved in this project at all. There were funds provided through VANOC by the provincial and federal governments towards the housing component at the Olympic village. That’s our only involvement. We’ve never been involved in the decision-making, the planning or any of the other aspects of this particular project.”

He went on, “It is not our intention to step in at any time and supersede the city of Vancouver. The city has asked for a meeting to discuss this particular project. It will be very carefully looked at if something does come forward to me with regards to this and what it really means and whether it affects the ability to perform on the agenda to do projects for mental health and addictions across British Columbia, because Vancouver is not the only community that has these issues with regards to it.”