City of Vancouver’s new definition of social housing facing legal challenge

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      The City of Vancouver’s new definition of social housing is facing a legal challenge.

      According to a petition filed before the B.C. Supreme Court, the meaning of the term set out in a recent amendment made by council to the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP) is “simply market rate rental housing”.

      “Market rate rental housing is not ‘social housing’,” the Community Association of New Yaletown asserted in court papers filed on April 2 by lawyer Nathalie Baker.

      CANY is the same organization that succeeded in a previous legal action against the city. In that case, a judge quashed a development permit, a rezoning decision, and a DODP amendment related to a land swap between the city and developer Brenhill Developments Ltd. The B.C. Court of Appeal will hear the appeals filed by the city and the developer on April 16 and 17.

      In its new petition, the group asked the court to declare the city’s definition of social housing “unreasonable” and “void for illegality”.

      On March 26, council voted 6–4 after a two-day public hearing to approve the new definition. Vision Vancouver councillors Heather Deal, Kerry Jang, Raymond Louie, Geoff Meggs, Andrea Reimer, and Tim Stevenson were in favour. Non-Partisan Association councillors George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball, and Melissa De Genova and Green councillor Adriane Carr voted against. Vision mayor Gregor Robertson was absent.

      The public hearing was part of the city’s response to the Brenhill decision.

      Previously, social housing meant residential units bought by the government or a nonprofit using government funding in order to house seniors, disabled people, and low-income families or individuals.

      Now social housing is defined as a building in which at least 30 percent of the dwellings are occupied by households that cannot afford market rates. In the Downtown Eastside, social housing has a slightly different meaning. It refers to a building in which at least 33 percent of units are occupied by people who are on social assistance or receive an old-age pension.

      The term low-cost housing was also removed from the DODP. A staff report considered in the March 24 and 26 public hearings noted that low-cost housing is an “outdated term no longer used in the affordable housing sector”.

      A media release from Mayor Robertson’s office on March 27 claimed that the “change builds on other steps the City has taken to create and protect low-income housing in Vancouver”.

      “The previous definition, in place since 1995, lacked any requirement for units to be rented at low-incomes, only that they be owned or operated by a non-profit or government,” according to the statement from the mayor’s office. The amended DODP will result in “strengthening the protection of low-income housing in Vancouver”, the release declared.

      CANY believes otherwise.

      “The definition results in large expensive market rate rental units being called ‘social housing’,” the association argued. This is because a whole building can now be considered social housing even if 70 percent of its units are market-rate rentals.

      According to the CANY petition, the definition “does not fall within a range of possible reasonable outcomes”.

      In addition to a new definition of social housing, on March 26 council also approved an amendment to the DODP that allows the Development Permit Board (DPB), which is composed of senior city staff, to approve additional development density in projects that include social housing.

      In the past, the DPB could increase density for a development that included “low-cost housing” with “prior approval” by council.

      Now the term low-cost housing is gone from the city’s lexicon. As well, council assent for increased density is only needed after the DPB has approved a development permit application for a project that has social housing.

      In its petition, CANY asked the court to scrap this amendment, arguing that council can only regulate density through a bylaw and “cannot delegate this power to an unelected board, such as the Development Permit Board”.

      CANY claimed that it’s an “unlawful delegation and is an evasion of the public hearing requirement” under the Vancouver Charter.



      Kerry Corlett

      Apr 8, 2015 at 11:52am

      One more shocking detail hidden in these DODP amendments: The City of Vancouver redefined the meaning of "social housing" to include bachelor suites renting for $912.50 per month. Is there any question who is benefiting from this?


      Apr 8, 2015 at 12:29pm

      I'm severely chronically ill, on disability, and my roommate wants to move. Getting access to real social housing, a place to live that is affordable at $900 total income a month will take too long and suicide is looking like my only option. I'm far too ill to be homeless. If we had assisted suicide now, it would make it a lot easier and less stressful than trying to access and figure out a way myself, that won't fail or make things worse. Not trying to shock or depress anyone, this is simply my reality. I hope the people who are dismantling services understand the real life effects it has on people.

      Neil Brown

      Apr 8, 2015 at 1:03pm

      Again the city is yielding to the developer to by pass the by-laws to allow a 36 story monster building built next to Emery Barnes Park in exchange for a 13 story social housing building ..
      36+13 = 49 /2 = 25 approximate. There is your answer, on the sites build 2 25 story buildings.


      Apr 8, 2015 at 3:17pm

      "Vision mayor Gregor Robertson was absent." As usual.

      Tara Sundberg

      Apr 8, 2015 at 4:05pm

      The real problem is that all levels of government seem to be absent from creating new social housing at all, even when there is tremendous demand for it. Rich Coleman, the housing minister, was quoted last year as saying the Provincial Government is no longer in that business - the from the HOUSING minister!! If not the governments, then who?? The Federal government certainly doesn't care about social housing.
      Rather than changing the definition of social housing, the City of Vancouver needs to incentivize the creation of purely social housing. There are many non-profit organizations who are eager and capable of running the buildings, but they lack the capital to purchase the land and/or develop it. How about for every 10 units condo units on one site the developer must invest in a fund for social housing so we can get some more built. There are literally thousands of people waiting on housing lists - families, seniors, people with disabilities and/or fixed incomes. In our RICH city, the $$ is there people.


      Apr 9, 2015 at 5:17am

      "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."
      George Orwell, 1984

      "Expensive is affordable." "Greed is compassion." "Arrogance is consultation"
      Vision Vancouver 2015

      wendy p

      Apr 9, 2015 at 9:21am

      Carlito, your definition of social housing for the downtown eastside is not correct. Social housing in the DTES is defined the same as everywhere else in the city. Except for one out of seven subareas of the DTES called the DEOD where 20% at welfare rate is required. But the 20% is not for the entire building, only the social housing portion of the building which is 60% of the total units. Connect with Jean Swanson to double check this.

      @Tara Sundberg

      Apr 9, 2015 at 9:32am

      The real problem is monetary policy, which has been kooky since the 1840s, if not forever. That problem isn't going to be solved. Combine kooky monetary policy with unreformed eugenics-style beliefs about "winners" and "losers", and you get what we have: a system that concentrates the disabled in cities, gives them less care than necessary, and therefore reduces their life expectancy all while paying hugely inflated salaries to the monopolistic professional guilds that take care of them: the doctors, the social workers, the nurses.

      I could buy that there is some sign of genetic fitness involved in competing in an open market: anyone can sell drugs; anyone can work as a doctor, etc. etc. Then maybe I could buy that those who come out on top have something going on. But that isn't what we have. We have monopolistic guilds that make the historical priesthood look sophisticated and rational---most churches wouldn't dream of demanding that everyone in a geographic region get priest-services from a single guild of priests. It's amazing that we tolerate physicians running the same state-church schtick in 2015.

      The Usual BS

      Apr 9, 2015 at 12:58pm

      CANY is just trying to prevent more people from blocking their views and competing for a patch of gravel for their pseudo-children (dogs) in the offleash area in Emery Barnes Park. They're emboldened now by their injunction and the NPA is willing to fund another lawsuit to try and hamper Vision as much as possible. At the rate their going they'll be broke by the time the next election comes around. It kind of reminds me of the BCTF bankrupting themselves just before going on strike.

      Deborah OConnor

      Apr 9, 2015 at 1:47pm

      We're watching this from Ontario, where the same erasure of real low cost public housing is developing. Don't let developers define social housing, it is a scam to rid downtown of the poor.