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A passer-by examines plans for the southeast False Creek development.

Homeless activists eye $100m Olympic loan

Community leaders are dreaming of what they could do with $100 million following last week’s revelation that the City of…

By Karen Moxley , in Spending , on November 13, 2008 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A passer-by examines plans for the southeast False Creek development.
There are extensive plans for the southeast False Creek development

Community leaders are dreaming of what they could do with $100 million following last week’s revelation that the City of Vancouver had offered a loan guarantee for that amount to developers of the 2010 Olympic Village.

A national newspaper revealed last week that Vancouver’s City Council had unanimously agreed in a secret meeting to bail out Millennium Development Corporation’s Olympic Village to the tune of $100 million.

With voters set to pick Vancouver’s next mayor on November 15, Vision Vancouver’s candidate Gregor Robertson, and the Non-Partisan Association’s Peter Ladner have both vowed to fix Vancouver. But neither have indicated how much this fix will cost.

But if either cut a $100 million cheque to address social issues in Vancouver, many of the challenges facing this city would evaporate over night, say city leaders and those who run social programs.

For example, Vancouver has a homeless population of more than 1,800. With only 800 shelter beds available in the city, many homeless people have to find refuge on Vancouver’s church steps and park benches, often in the cold winter rain.

The Yukon Shelter’s site manager, Chris Davidson, knows exactly what $100 million could do.

Davidson estimates the average cost of operating a shelter bed in Vancouver is between $20-$25 a day.

“With this much money, you could open a great deal more shelter beds for the long term,” said Davidson.

Davidson explains that with $100 million, the city could create about 500 more shelter beds every year in Vancouver and operate them for two decades.

Providing a hot dinner for a homeless person costs $2-2.50 per meal. One hundred million dollars could translate into 40 million hot meals for the city’s homeless in the years ahead.

Throughout Vancouver’s civic election campaign, candidates have called for more sustainable solutions to homelessness.  Ladner has said, “Putting people in shelters is not the answer,” while Robertson wants homelessness ended by 2015 and opposes temporary tent cities.

Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels provide an alternative that both agree with.

Cranes loom over the Olympic Village construction site.
Cranes have become commonplace at the Olympic Village construction site

An SRO room can be purchased for about $50,000, according to Vancouver’s Housing Director, Cameron Gray.

“But the renovations could cost as much again for a total of $100,000 per room, noting that if there is a heritage component or severe structural problems, the cost will be that much higher,” said Gray.

Here’s the math anti-poverty activists are doing: At $100,000 per room, 1,000 SRO units could be purchased and renovated in Vancouver. This investment would permanently take most of Vancouver’s homeless off the streets.

Gray has other suggestions for $100 million, noting that the average cost for a new community centre in Vancouver is $30 million, not including land.

Vancouver could build three brand new community centres, or twenty 50-space child care facilities for $100 million.

RELATED: What $100 million could pay for
RELATED: Profile: Olympic Village

Another hot topic on the civic election agenda has been arts and culture in Vancouver.

Vision Vancouver City Council candidate Geoff Meggs said, “One hundred million dollars would utterly transform the arts in this city. It would probably make us the best arts-funded city in North America.”

Meggs explained the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is being renovated for between $25-30 million. Also, the proposed $40-50 million renovations for the Pantages Theatre in the Downtown Eastside would come complete with social housing units and heritage restoration.

Meggs also highlights the impact $100 million could have for the artists living in the city. Citing the example of the artists evicted from 901 Main Street, who couldn’t afford the $16,000 damage deposit, Meggs said, “If this money were made available for the creation of artists’ workspace, as opposed to high-end performance centres, it would go vastly further.”

Crime and increased street safety has also been a heated issue in the election campaign, but neither Ladner nor Robertson have put a dollar value on the cost of hiring more police personnel in the city.

If that $100 million were invested in a savings account, rather than an Olympic Village, with a prime interest rate of 4% the interest alone could finance an additional 75 entry-level constables, at a $52,000 annual salary.

But City Hall does a different calculation. City officials say Vancouver is protected in the $100 million Olympic Village deal, because the city has retained ownership of the land being developed at southeast False Creek until after the 2010 Games.

“We wanted to make sure that even if the developer ran into trouble or defaulted, we could move in and complete the project,” said Ken Bayne, Vancouver’s general manager of planning and services.

With nearly one third of the condo units already sold at southeast False Creek, the city is assuring taxpayers they won’t be on the hook to cover additional costs of the $1.1 billion project.  They also say the development will be a world-class destination.

Peter Ladner captures City Hall’s view:  “If necessary I am prepared to lose this election to save this project.”

The City of Vancouver has guaranteed VANOC the Olympic Village will be completed by October 2009.

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