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The Millenium Water condominium complex, which was formerly the 2010 Winter Olympic Village on Thursday, June 24, 2010.Lyle Stafford/Bloomberg

Very poor people shouldn't be mixed with very rich people at the Olympic village or it will affect the price of the still-unsold condos - and eventually hurt taxpayers.

That's the provocative point of view that a well-known Vancouver development consultant and onetime council candidate has been airing in interviews and blogging about in recent days. It has kicked off a debate that had been dormant for decades about whether and how the city should engineer socially mixed neighbourhoods.

"If you think of the population as divided into five groups on a social and economic basis -As, Bs, Cs, Ds, Es, - when you start putting together the As and the Es, there is the potential for people to not get along," Michael Geller told The Globe and Mail, adding that the city's plan to rent out about 110 units to what are called "core need" households would create too difficult a mix in the Olympic village. "If you're going to mix people, it should be As, Bs and Cs together or Cs, Ds and Es."

The perception of a big social division is going to affect potential buyers of the village's as-yet unsold 480 condos, Mr. Geller said, especially because there has been so much publicity about the plans for social housing at the village.

And the selling price of the condos will affect whether the city of Vancouver gets back all of the money it lent to the private developer who built the village.

"A lot of higher-income buyers will be deterred by this," said Mr. Geller, who ran for the Non-Partisan Association and lost in the last election. "You're almost saying to them that 'you have to sign an invisible declaration that you're going to get along with all these people.' "

Mr. Geller has overseen Vancouver-area projects like the luxury towers around the Bayshore Hotel and Simon Fraser University's new housing developments on Burnaby Mountain.

At the Bayshore development, he persuaded the city in the early 1990s that social housing wouldn't be appropriate for the site, even though a city policy initiated by former mayor Gordon Campbell in the 1980s specified that 20 per cent of housing in all mega-projects should be social housing. Instead, the Bayshore developers paid several million dollar into a city housing fund.

Mr. Geller's stand has angered long-time advocates of socially mixed neighbourhoods.

Councillor Geoff Meggs said Mr. Geller's comments are offensive.

"It's an attempt to stigmatize people."

And Mark Townsend of the PHS Society, a non-profit that has applied to manage the city's social housing, said Mr. Geller's comments make it sound as though the entire project will be filled with the poorest of the poor.

Although Mr. Townsend said he would like to see a few of the city's hard-to-house residents in the project - and he'll be pushing to achieve that if his non-profit wins the right to operate the buildings - they will largely be rented to people who are lower-income but still able to pay rents of $600 a month and more.

"They are not monsters. They're your sons and daughters."

The sudden eruption of the debate over social housing has even puzzled some condo marketers, who say that Vancouver has a long and well-accepted policy of mixing social housing with very high-end condos.

"I think Vancouverites are quite open-minded and people are very respectful of the diversity here," said George Wong of Magnum Projects. "From a pure marketing standpoint, social housing in urban situations has never deterred potential condo buyers."

Mr. Wong said he's sold many extremely high-end condos in Coal Harbour right next to the social-housing project there. That project, called C-Side, is across the street from the Bayshore developments. Of the 284 units in the building, 34 are rented to "core need" households like the ones the city is planning to accommodate at the village.

Cameron McNeill of MAC Marketing also said buyers at the project he is selling, the James, a block from the village's social housing, have expressed no concern.

"Urban residents are used to having diverse housing around them," he said. He said some people don't always understand the range of people who live in social housing.

"Sometimes it's just an urban working family that can't afford a $1-million condo but can pay rent. Maybe they're people who are working in the amenities that are in this area."