British Columbia

Protest shuts down Olympic Village condo sale

Protesters crashed an open house at Vancouver's Olympic Village on Saturday, forcing police to lock the area down.
Protesters and police clash as officers move in to shut down the open house at the Olympic Village on Saturday. ((CBC))
Protesters crashed an open house at Vancouver's Olympic Village on Saturday, forcing police to lock the area down.

Brandishing signs and chanting, dozens of people were there to protest what they say is a lack of social housing at the development.

"This project was once going to be used as a way to deal with the city's issues and now it's just making them worse," said protester Maxim Winther.

"With real estate speculation, rents are going up and people are being moved out of the city — people that live [and] work [here], and their community is here."

Police tangled with the demonstrators as they attempted to push their way inside the building. Police shut down the open house at about 4 p.m., an hour earlier than scheduled, and locked down the area.

Project plagued by controversy

Earlier in the day, thousands flocked to the village to get a peek at the condos now up for sale.

About 475 units at the $1.1-billion waterfront development in False Creek went on the market Saturday. Another 260 were sold during pre-sales in 2007. About 250 rental units will be reserved for civic workers and low-income residents.

Studios and single-bedroom condos start at about $400,000, while higher end units cost as much as $5 million.

The project has been mired in controversy.

Last month, the city voted to halve the amount of social housing it had promised to provide in the Olympic Village development. The project also had to be rescued by the City of Vancouver with loan guarantees in order to get it ready for the Olympic Games in February.

In addition, several aspects of the project — from the public portion of the development to the social housing units — have been plagued by cost overruns.

City hopes to recoup cost of land

Vancouver's Olympic Village was supposed to be a showcase for green and sustainable living, but ended up becoming a symbol for financial mismanagement for the 2010 Winter Games. ((CBC))
Michael Geller, a planning and development consultant in Vancouver, said one big question is whether the city will ever be paid the $193 million it's owed for the land.

"It's a very good development and I'm quite confident that the city will get the balance of the outstanding loan," he said.

"What I don't know, and I don't think any of us yet know, is whether or not the city will get the balance of the land payment, which was an extremely large sum of money."

Tsur Somerville, a professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, said the condos could be a tough sell because condo inventory is rising, prices are comparatively steep and the location isn't the best Vancouver has to offer.

"I think one of their challenges [is] it's a very high-end development at a location that isn't. You know, it's not Coal Harbour, it doesn't have the views of the mountains," he said.

"Its selling point is the sustainability piece and so you're doing a very high price point for a relatively narrow slice of the market."

Condo marketer Bob Rennie, responsible for recouping the money put up by the city, said it will take time to sell the condos.

"We've budgeted two years to sell the [Athletes] Village," he said. "We're not selling to people who buy two and sell one later, we're selling to homeowners."

Taxpayers won't find out whether they've made or lost money on the deal until the all of the units are sold.