Blog by Mark Longpre

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First tenants move into subsidized housing at Olympic Village

METRO VANCOUVER -- At 19, Tessa Schmidt has had a lifetime of trouble. Cerebral palsy has left her unable to walk and work, and she survives on a permanent disability pension of $900 a month.

For Kyle Bordage, 31, a crippling stroke six months ago has robbed him of his ability to work.

But this week both won the housing equivalent of a lottery when they were among the first to be offered subsidized accommodation in the Olympic Village, now known as Millennium Water.

"It's a huge thing for me. It means I have one less problem, one less thing on my plate to deal with," Schmidt said.

"I'm extremely lucky. The folks over at G.F. Strong (Rehabilitation Centre) say there is an 11-year wait for wheelchair-accessible apartments," said Bordage.

The two went down Wednesday to see their new homes at 122 Walter Hardwick Way, one of three affordable housing buildings owned by the city. This week the city-selected building managers, COHO Management Services, are beginning to move people in to some of the 252 units.

Thom Armstrong, the executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., which owns COHO, said they hope to move in as many as 15 families and individuals between now and New Year's. Already five of the 101 units in Schmidt's building are occupied.

That's good news to Mayor Gregor Robertson, whose administration has been under pressure to get more people into the financially troubled and largely vacant village.

"You know, there are highs and lows and over time this place will be a great, great neighbourhood for Vancouver," he said. "Like everywhere, people are what bring a community alive and they are starting to fill in here in the village, which is great news."

The village was put into voluntary receivership last month after the city called in a multi-million-dollar loan to Millennium Developments. The three city-owned affordable housing sites were not part of the receivership, but the entire health of the village is wrapped up in a complicated effort by the receiver to sell the remaining 430 condos. Some of those units will go on sale starting in February.

Half of the city's 252 affordable housing units are being put aside for people with low incomes who need assistance. The other half are being rented at market rates to help subsidize the rest. The city wants those to be offered first to police, firefighters, teachers, ambulance paramedics and other public servants. Armstrong said his agency already has a list of 300 people for those 126 units.

As lucky as Schmidt is in getting a second-storey apartment, she still faces many obstacles. Her rent is $325, one-third of her disability pension. After utilities, she has less than $500 a month for groceries. Living in False Creek is possible, she said. But it's still going to be a challenge.

"Talk about barely surviving," she said with a laugh. "I have people giving me stuff because I can't afford anything. I can't afford to go out with friends very often. I need a bed so I'm looking on Craigslist in the free listings."

But Schmidt also is counting her blessings in getting into the new building. "I'd be otherwise homeless," she said.

Bordage, on the other hand, is hopeful he won't need the subsidized apartment for long. His treatment at G.F. Strong is progressing and he hopes to be back working at least part-time soon.

Armstrong expects most of the units to be filled over the next three months.


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