The City of Vancouver has failed in its “legal obligation” to low-income residents in the Olympic Village, according to an opinion prepared by a lawyer with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
Tannis Braithwaite wrote the document for Pivot Legal Society, the group that represents low-income tenants at 80 Walter Hardwick Avenue. This is one of three buildings designated for nonmarket housing promised by the city as part of its bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Braithwaite reviewed not only the city’s pledge to the International Olympic Committee but also Vancouver’s housing policy, the official development plan for Southeast False Creek, and the resolution approved by council on April 22, 2010. The latter provided that half of the 252 nonmarket housing units at the Athletes Village would be occupied by so-called core-need and deep-core-need households paying below-market rent of not more than 30 percent of their incomes.
“Looking at these obligations as a group, and taking into account the CMHC [Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation] definition of ‘core housing need’, there is a good argument that providing for core housing need means providing suitable housing for 30% of gross household income where utilities are included within the 30% figure,” Braithwaite wrote. “Vancouver is not living up to this commitment at 80 Walter Hardwick.”
In an interview, the lawyer explained that the low-income tenants have to pay utilities on top of their rent. “Some of the people who fall into the core-need and deep-core-need categories end up paying more than 30 percent of their income because they pay 30 percent for rent and then they pay utilities on top of that,” Braithwaite told the Straight by phone.
Neither Braithwaite nor Scott Bernstein, the Pivot lawyer who sought the legal opinion from B.C. PIAC, know whether the city has fulfilled the other aspect of its commitment. That is to have 126 of those 252 Athletes Village units used to house poor people as part of the city’s Olympic legacy.
“We know for a fact that many of the units in 80 Walter Hardwick, and probably in 122 [Walter Hardwick] as well, are rented to market-rate tenants,” Bernstein told the Straight in a phone interview.
It was Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs who moved the motion for council’s approval in April 2010 of the income mix of residents. Meggs declined to directly comment on B.C. PIAC’s legal opinion, saying he wants city lawyers to review it first. But he noted that the city did a lot of work last year on the energy billing process to make sure that tenants’ utility costs are “mitigated”.
Meggs also said the city is making progress on having core-need and deep-core-need households occupy 50 percent of the 252 nonmarket housing units on the site. “The commitment was to move towards that,” Meggs told the Straight in a phone interview. “We never said that we would be able to establish that on Day 1.”
Green party councillor Adriane Carr has filed a motion on notice in the May 1 city-council-meeting agenda to address the situation of low-income tenants in the Olympic Village.
“It was very clear that the basis would be that they would not have to pay more than 30 percent of their income for their housing,” Carr told the Straight by phone.