VANOC Criticized Over Lack of Affordable Housing

VANOC Criticized Over Lack of Affordable Housing

Advocates criticizing VANOC over affordable housing woes

John Bermingham, The Province
Published: Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Housing advocates say the 2010 Olympics are out of the medals when it comes to affordable housing.

At the Olympic countdown clock in Vancouver yesterday, Olympics watchdogs expressed concern at Vancouver's rising homelessness, evictions and the lack of new affordable housing since the Games were awarded in 2003.

Geneva-based Olympic housing expert Claire Mahon said time is running out for Olympic organizers to fulfil their promise to make it a "socially sustainable" event.

Mahon, with the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, is in town to research Vancouver's Olympian housing concerns.

"The people who live in the city are often the ones who lose out," said Mahon.

"The local people who live in the city should not be adversely affected by a sporting event that lasts two weeks," she said. "We need to make sure that nobody gets displaced in Vancouver."

Jenny Kwan, the NDP's housing and mental health critic, said Games organizers promised 3,200 units of affordable housing but haven't delivered.

Kwan called on VANOC to impose a $1 surcharge on all merchandising and ticket sales, and put the money into a housing-legacy fund.

"We have a great opportunity here in B.C. to show how we can host major games like the Olympics differently," said Kwan.

Since the Games were awarded, she said, about 1,300 SRO (single-room-accommodation) housing units have been converted into boutique hotels and backpacker hostels, evicting the low-income tenants. Kwan wants a moratorium on further SRO conversions.

"We want a lasting legacy," said Kwan. "A legacy that will take the people off the streets of Vancouver."

Vancouver housing advocates say there's also been an upsurge in evictions from the West End and Commercial Drive, through rent hikes and renovations.

Meanwhile, Michael Byers, a director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said he's concerned about the lack of dialogue between Olympic organizers, civic groups and his association about how peaceful protests are to be conducted during the Games.

Byers wants downtown protest zones to be established.

"I think it's very important that people have the right to peaceful protest, that that's respected," said Byers.

He wants to know where the security zones will be located, whether surveillance cameras will be removed after the Games and how protesters are going to be dealt with by police and the courts.

VANOC and Olympic security officials were unavailable for comment.