B.C. government sells off part of land stock to nonprofits for social housing

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      As of June 30, the province had sold 111 pieces of government land to nonprofits that built and manage social housing at these locations.

      The list of properties was made available to the Straight by B.C. Housing following an interview with its CEO, Shayne Ramsay, about the disposition of these assets.

      According to Ramsay, these sales started in October 2014 when deputy premier and minister responsible for housing Rich Coleman announced that the province would be transferring the ownership of lands leased by nonprofits for social housing.

      “Ninety percent of [social] housing [stock] in British Columbia is already managed by nonprofits, and the minister has clearly said the right agencies to own and manage this housing are nonprofit societies,” Ramsay told the Georgia Straight by phone on August 18.

      The public-housing executive added that the asset transfer is part of the province’s efforts to strengthen the nonprofit sector.

      All in all, the province will hand over 350 properties to housing providers over the next few years.

      According to Ramsay, two types of assets are involved. The first is lands leased by nonprofits that have built and managed social housing on them. These are the 111 properties mentioned above.

      Among the organizations that received the largest number of properties are the Affordable Housing Charitable Association; the Capital Region Housing Corporation, owned by the Capital Regional District on Vancouver Island; and the Pacifica Housing Advisory Association.

      The second type of assets is those whose physical structures are directly owned by B.C. Housing. Stamps Place and Nicholson Tower, both in Vancouver, are the first of these to be sold.

      On August 12, B.C. Housing announced that it had selected New Chelsea Society and the Bloom Group as its “preferred candidates” to acquire Stamps Place and Nicholson Tower, respectively.

      The housing agency’s list shows that New Chelsea Society had earlier bought seven other provincially owned lands in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, Port Coquitlam, and Surrey.

      Stamps Place and Nicholson Tower are assessed at $50.5 million and $34 million.

      “They’ll be transferred at fair market value, and we will look at the assessed values to provide guidance on that figure,” Ramsay said.

      Ramsay expects the turnover of the two Vancouver social-housing properties to be completed late this year or in early 2016.

      “Rents will remain the same,” Ramsay asserted. “B.C. Housing will enter into an operating agreement with the society that will bridge the gap between what the tenants pay in rent based on their incomes and what it costs to operate the building, and that includes the new mortgage payment to pay for the purchase of the site.”

      Nicholson Tower is a 20-storey building at 1115 Nelson Street in the West End. The site has 219 suites.

      Over in East Vancouver, Stamps Place is an apartment and townhouse complex built in 1968 on a four-hectare site at 400 Campbell Avenue. It has 368 residences.

      On July 28, Guy Wakeman, president of the Stamps Place Tenants Council, wrote to Mayor Gregor Robertson and city council. He suggested in the letter that the city purchase the property and keep it publicly owned through a land trust.

      “Because of the housing crisis in Vancouver, especially for subsidized or affordable housing, it seems silly for us to be selling off our land,” Wakeman told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Wakeman and other Stamps Place tenants are scheduled to meet with councillors Andrea Reimer and Kerry Jang on Tuesday (August 25).

      Although the government has yet to hand over Stamps Place to New Chelsea Society, Jang noted that the transfer looks like a done deal.

      “For me, the real question is, ‘Okay, how do you think if I was a resident, you know, having the city as your landlord, if you like, would it get you a better deal?’ ” Jang told the Straight by phone.

      According to him, it may be the case that residents will get just as good a deal with a nonprofit like New Chelsea Society as with the city.




      Aug 19, 2015 at 11:27am

      "“Rents will remain the same,” Ramsay asserted."

      Let's revisit that statement in a year or two. The "Expression of Interest" documents made it clear that Nicholson Towers will become a mixed income building with rents set "at or below market rent" for the neighbourhood.

      These documents explained that the current average rent paid by tenants currently is $370/month with only 2% of the tenants being employed. Rents are set at 30% of gross household income so the average annual income of current tenants is around $14,800 (almost all tenants are either on EI or basic CPP + OAS).

      However, the new operating agreement states that the permitted income for future tenants in a one bedroom unit is up to $64,999/year with only 51% of units being set at below market rent.

      So yeah, let's look at Nicholson Towers situation in a few years. Currently there are 218 units for very low income tenants. The intent is to have half of those units rented to market rent payers in the $30k-$65K income range ASAP. Otherwise, how can you pay a $34,000,000 mortgage and manage a 218 unit building in terrible repair on an income of less than $1,000,000?

      Guy Wakeman

      Aug 19, 2015 at 12:16pm

      Apparently Counselor Jang is missing the point. It has nothing to do with a "better deal" it about keeping the property in the hands of the tax payer and the province. If there is no issue around the properties being self supporting, why are we giving it away??

      G Robertson

      Aug 19, 2015 at 12:26pm

      Stamps Place, with 368 residences, is assessed at $50.5 million. If that's going to be used as the "fair market" figure (and any unbuilt-on land in that four-hectare parcel won't be cheap to build on), then the average valuation for every one of the units is $1,372,282.

      At a 2.5-per-cent mortgage rate on a 25-year amortization, that'll be $2,860.42 per month for interest and $3,299.09 for principal.

      Whoa...$6,159.51 per month, or $73,914.12 per year. Let's hope that the provincial and federal governments step up to the plate and increase assistance, UIC, CPP and OAP rates to cover the shortfall.


      Aug 19, 2015 at 12:44pm

      Yeah, it seems clear that everyone who has actually looked at the details of the deal here (with the apparent exception of any journalists or politicians) realizes that this will significantly reduce low-income housing units in the city. It's right there in black and white in the tender docs but has any politician or journalist bothered obtaining these docs and trying to interpret them? Nah, it's easier to print some off-the-cuff remark that Ramsay makes at a press conference and assume he's being honest.