Bob Rennie, DTES condo king, connects Olympics and real estate

While most people think the Olympics is about athletes from around the world competing with each other, I’m discovering that folks in the real estate business consider the Olympics to be a $6 billion marketing campaign designed to sell Vancouver homes and condos to rich foreigners.

According to Bob Rennie, Vancouver’s Condo King, who sold out the condos at Woodwards, “Vancouver has become a resort city where rich foreigners live a few months per year… It’s a trend, whether you like it or not, the Olympics is likely to accelerate.”

“With NBC and other broadcasters set to beam images of Vancouver around the world, the city will be promoted as never before,” Rennie explained in a Vancouver Sun article.  In an earlier, January, article in Xinhua, Rennie speculated that people who see the Olympics on TV will go from saying, “I want to spend two to five months in Vancouver’ to ‘I want to send my children to school here.'”

And way back in 2002 Frank O’Brien wrote in the Western Investor, June 2002, “The real purpose of the 2010 Olympic bid is to seduce the provincial and federal governments and long suffering taxpayers into footing a billion dollar bill to pave the path for future real estate sales.”

In the same article O’Brien quotes Jack Poole, real estate developer and the late chair of the 2010 Bid Corporation, “If the Olympic bid wasn’t happening we would have to invent something.”

O’Brien went on to say, “It is hard to imagine any fantasy that fits better than the Olympic bid if you are into real estate development.”

According to Bob Rennie, “everything will be alright.” What do you think?This slogan is lit up in lights at the back of his private art gallery in Chinatown.

Just as the Olympics were starting, the Vancouver Sun and Province published 17 days, the best guide to the games as an insert in its daily paper.  One section of the booklet included “17 reasons to live in Vancouver or buy real estate here.”  Almost all of the 17 reasons were designed to appeal to rich foreigners:  Vancouver is the “bridge between Asia and the rest of North America”, Vancouver has direct flights to 110 cities, Vancouver is a top livable city, Vancouver has stable property values; it has skiing, sport fishing, sailing, and golf.  And, get this, Vancouver has “constrained land supply.”  This means there is “limited space for new development” and, I assume, property prices can go nowhere but up.

Another Olympic insert in the Vancouver Sun was a special “2010 commemorative edition of Westcoast Homes and Design.”  It included an article advising foreigners to buy real estate in Vancouver, saying “you get to keep most of the profit.”  One section of the article pointed out that all an investor had to do was fill out a form saying “I expect $2000 a month, my expenses are $1900 a month.  My net rental income is expected to be only $100. Then you only need to pay $25 per month to the … taxman.”

Many of the things the government spent money on for the Olympics will also help increase the value of property or add amenities that rich property owners might like.  The nearly billion dollar Sea to Sky Highway upgrade, ostensibly for the Olympics will also make land between Vancouver and Pemberton more attractive for development because getting to and from Vancouver will be faster.

Faux Condo King angers some residents when he shows up to push for a condo tower at Hastings and Carrall (BC Electric Building – Centre A). City council approved the new height shortly after. (Blackbird photo)

The $2 billion transit line to the Airport will be handy for business people and part time residents who commute to other countries.  The almost $1 billion Trade and Convention Centre will also serve this crowd.

I wish this was all just real estate hype, but fear that it’s not. I don’t recall having an election where we voted to make Vancouver into an “urban resort.”  I can’t remember ever voting for the type of city where even policemen, firemen and nurses can’t afford to buy homes, as Rennie admits.  And, in a time of global warming, it’s not really a great idea to be promoting international commuting on carbon spewing airplanes.

What does this have to do with the Downtown Eastside?  As the value of property increases, more low income people will be pushed out…. unless we can get more social housing built.

The Olympics were bad for low income people because the money spent on the games could have ended homelessness and reduced poverty a lot. They were bad because we’re already paying for them with cuts to crucial services.  But who of us non realtors knew that the one of the biggest impacts would be pushing up land prices and pushing tenants out of their own communities?