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A general view of the athlete's village on February 9, 2010. in Vancouver, Canada. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
A general view of the athlete's village on February 9, 2010. in Vancouver, Canada. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Bidders few and far between on Olympic village buildings Add to ...

The city will find out Tuesday whether anyone at all is interested in running its three rental buildings at the Olympic village that are supposed to be bringing in $48-million in lease money.

But early indications are that many likely candidates decided the potential problems in running the buildings and their 252 apartments were too daunting.

That's one more difficulty for an Olympics project that has become the city's biggest albatross, as it struggles with both the difficult social-housing project and the private developer side, where the city is still owed $731-million it lent out in order to make sure the village got built in time for the Games.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said bluntly Monday that "there's still significant risk of losing money in this through the financing."

It is also foregoing $317,000 a month in rents while waiting to choose an operator for the social-housing rental buildings, according to the numbers set out in the bid documents.

For potential housing operators, the uncertainty over the cost of operating a building with new environmental technologies, from heating systems that involve capillary mats in the ceiling to roof gardens to a district-energy system, was one discouraging factor.

Potential bidders also worried about the cost of maintaining a building that used much more expensive materials than is typical for social housing.

And then there was the prospect of renting out some units at market rates to the city's designated preferred tenants - police officers, teachers, health-care workers and firefighters - while managing subsidized units for the low-income renters that non-profit groups are more used to housing.

Two of the city's largest non-profit housing operators, Affordable Housing Societies and the Housing Foundation of B.C., both decided against putting in bids, as did smaller non-profits such as Atira Housing and the Vancouver Native Housing Society.

"This is just a very, very complex situation and just the staffing alone required to manage mixed-income buildings like that is difficult and time-consuming," said Barbara Bacon, executive director of the housing foundation.

Janice Abbott, the director of Atira, said much the same hours before the 2 p.m. deadline for the bids Monday. "It was just fraught with too many complications. There were a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of risk."

The Globe was able to find one non-profit that did put in a bid: the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C.

But the federation only bid on the building with the highest number of market units and it sent in a proposal outlining its own conditions for operating 151 West First Ave., the striking building with the chartreuse glass panels on the outside.

Federation director Thom Armstrong said the group is aware of all the potential difficulties.

"These are pretty complicated buildings with some downstream costs no one is sure about. And it's really anyone's guess whether the rents [set out in the bed]are attainable."

In spite of that, he said, "who could resist having a co-op in that part of the city?"

Co-op tenants pay the same rents as anyone else, but they run the buildings where they live collectively, making joint decisions about pets and gardens and maintenance.

The building the federation put its bid in for has 84 units in total. Only 11 of them are scheduled to be rented out to very low-income households and seven are targeted to go to moderate-income households.

In the city's other two buildings, the 67-unit one at 80 Walter Hardwick Ave. has no market units and the 101-unit building at 122 Walter Hardwick has only 30 market units.

The city's manager of community services, Dave McLellan, said he's confident the city will get bids for all three buildings.

He is also aiming to get at least some tenants moved in by the end of November, "even if I have to do it myself," he joked.

In the meantime, Mr. Robertson said that for the 480 condos that still need to be sold if the city's loan is ever going to be repaid, "we need to be patient. We're assessing week to week but we need to give the Rennie Marketing plan a chance to succeed."

He said he can't predict when the city might decide it needs to intervene.

"We are consulting the best external advisers, but we can only take direct action when there's a significant default and collapse."



 

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