Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone

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Hidden energy costs for Olympic Village tenants are for the birds!

Back in 2003, when Vancouver won the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics residents were promised an Olympic experience built on the three pillars of social, environmental and economic sustainability.  The flagship project of the most sustainable Olympics ever- the Olympic Village development on south east False Creek.

The Village would house Olympic athletes from around the world for the duration for the Games and then be converted into a residential community.  The public private partnership, which included a reduced rate lease of City-owned land to Millennium Development Corporation, would be a model of environmental sustainability. With two-thirds of the 1100 units set aside for affordable housing, the project would also help ensure the “Affordable Housing Legacy” promised in the 2010 Winter Games Inner-City Inclusive Commitment Statement.

By late 2008, it was clear the project was not going as planned. Millennium was about to default on its mortgage. When Vancouver City Council agreed to a $100 million dollar bailout for the development company most of the blame was placed on the global financial crisis. But there was also speculation that Millennium’s management practices, and even the green technologies themselves, were in part responsible for the project’s financial troubles.

The City’s response to the financial mess was to cut over 620 units of social housing from the project.  After the dust settled, 252 units of affordable housing remained.  Only half of those were actually affordable for low-income people, the rest of the “affordable units” rent for approximately $1,600 for a 600 to 650 square foot one-bedroom, and $1,900 for a two-bedroom apartment.

The good news was that the seniors, low income families, people with disabilities who did secure one of the few truly affordable units were promised that they would reap the benefits of living in an environmentally sustainable community where heating and other utilities costs would be virtually non-existent. Tenants report that they were told their utility bills would be ‘next to nothing’, often after repeatedly asking about utilities before accepting a suite in the Village so, you can imagine how surprised tenants were when they started to receive bills from a third-party utility company called Enerpro.

The Enerpro bills, which included account setup fees and billing for heat and hot and cold water, were on top of the usual BC Hydro bills that tenants had expected. Many of the tenants had never even signed an agreement with Enerpro and the bills they received, which ranged between $50 and $148, included heating charges for times when the heat was not functioning properly in the building. For tenants like Connor and Ritta Mikkonen, who are disabled, the $148 Enerpro bill they received represents over 15% of their combined monthly income.

So, here we are, almost two years after the Games, and once again, some of the City’s lowest-income residents are yet again being asked to pay the price for broken Olympic promises. Meanwhile, Millennium’s website boasts about a series of awards bestowed upon the Olympic Village project, including the Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Neighborhood Platinum Award for its extraordinary commitment to designing and constructing the most energy-efficient neighborhood in North America.

The tenants, including the Mikkonens, aren’t going to take this lying down. Pivot has been working with a housing advocate to document more than 20 low-income tenants’ experiences with unexpected and unaffordable bills in the form of sworn legal statements called affidavits.   We will be using the affidavits to develop a legal opinion that outlines the legal rights of the low-income tenants of the Olympic Village. In the meantime, we are asking the City to take responsibility for the technical deficiencies of the Olympic Village and not to shunt that burden onto the most marginalized tenants.