City of Vancouver is facing criticism for what it defines as affordable rental housing

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      A litigator who specializes in municipal law suggests that a 2014 B.C. Supreme Court decision may be worth reading again.

      Nathalie Baker made the recommendation amid criticism from the public about how the City of Vancouver defines “for-profit affordable rental housing”.

      It’s also a time when civic parties are gearing up for a new election in October this year, hence the relevance of the nearly four-year-old court ruling.

      Baker knows this case well because she represented the group of residents that sought a judicial review of a city bylaw that provided incentives to developers to build “affordable rental housing”.

      Through Baker, the West End Neighbours Residents Society in 2014 argued that the city did not provide a plan for affordable rental housing and delivered instead a scheme to subsidize private developers to build market rentals.

      At that time, developers were eligible for city incentives if their rental housing had initial rents of $1,443 per month for a studio unit, $1,517 for a one-bedroom, and $2,061 for two bedrooms.

      The numbers have increased since then.

      For the year 2018, the city will reward developers if the starting rates for their “for-profit affordable rental housing” in the West End are as follows: $3,702, three bedrooms; $2,756, two bedrooms; $1,903, one bedroom; and $1,646, studio. In East Vancouver, the rates are: $3,365, three bedrooms; $2,505, two bedrooms; $1,730, one bedroom; and $1,496, studio.

      Going back to the court case, Justice Susan Griffin dismissed the petition filed by Baker’s clients against the rental policy brought in by Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver councillors.

      “The subjective nature of what is ‘for-profit’, and the relative nature of ‘affordability’ creates considerable room for disagreement but I also find that it creates considerable room for Council to exercise its judgment,” Griffin wrote in her May 30, 2014, decision. “I conclude that this is what it has done.”

      Those who disagree with how the city defines what is affordable may want to read what Griffin wrote next: “Despite the thoughtful arguments advanced by the petitioner, I find that the petitioner’s position falls into the category of criticism of Council’s political choices. That is not a matter on which the Court ought to weigh in. Instead, the forum for these arguments is the ballot box.”