West End residents take Vision Vancouver to court over market housing policy

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      Renting a condo may be cheaper than owning one, but it doesn’t mean that the rental unit is affordable.

      This is a central argument in a new legal challenge against the City of Vancouver program that provides incentives to developers of market rentals.

      On February 3 this year, the West End Neighbours Residents Society filed an amended petition seeking a court declaration that Rental 100: Secured Market Housing Policy—and its now-expired predecessor, Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing, or STIR—violates the Vancouver Charter.

      The two policies were introduced by the ruling Vision Vancouver party.

      “They’re giving away too much to developers in return for not enough back to the public,” WEN director Randy Helten told the Georgia Straight by phone on February 18.

      According to Helten, the case will be heard by the B.C. Supreme Court on April 9 and April 10 this year.

      In effect since 2009, STIR and the subsequent Rental 100 allowed council to waive development-cost levies (DCLs), reduce parking requirements, approve smaller apartment sizes, and allow developers to build more units than they would otherwise have been permitted, all in return for producing affordable market rental housing.

      According to the WEN petition, the city waived about $10 million in DCLs between 2010 and 2013.

      The Vancouver Charter allows council to forgo development levies only on three types of projects, one being “for-profit affordable rental housing”.

      Moreover, the charter mandates that council defines through a bylaw what constitutes an eligible development.

      In September last year, WEN launched a court challenge against STIR and Rental 100. It claimed, in part, that the city didn’t define what constitutes affordable rental housing to justify the non-collection of development levies.

      Because of the suit, the city agreed to amend its rules. On December 3 last year, the Vision Vancouver–dominated council defined for-profit affordable rental housing as those whose initial rents do not exceed the following: $1,433 a month for a studio unit; $1,517 for a one-bedroom; and $2,061 for a two-bedroom.

      In its amended petition, WEN argued that what the amendments do is simply allow the waiver of development-cost levies for “market rate rental housing” but not necessarily affordable rental housing.

      It noted that the average monthly rental rate for a bachelor unit in the West End is $902, and $714 in Marpole. This means that the city “deems developments, with potential rental rates almost twice the City average, to be ‘affordable’ rental housing simply because they are rental as opposed to freehold”.

      The amended petition also stated that staff were given “unfettered discretion to waive DCL’s for projects that are not ‘affordable’ at all, but simply market rental”.

      Comments

      13 Comments

      Taxpayer

      Feb 19, 2014 at 1:29pm

      STIR was a flawed program that benefitted developers a great deal more than taxpayers and renters. Using foregone municipal revenues to create $2000 a month apartments is folly. The market is fully capable of providing such a product.

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      G

      Feb 19, 2014 at 2:00pm

      Developer profits have increased since the various changes under the leadership of Robertson & Vision. Every change they made to regulations has favoured development, increasing the profits and keeping those tables full at Vision fund raisers. The definition of "affordable" rents is bizarre at best, numbers that likely came from a "consultant" free landing from one of the favoured development companies. I have written of my cold blooded admiration for the effectiveness of Vision's various propaganda campaigns targeting key sections of support but it drives me insane that voters and the media keep following exactly where Vision leads them.

      Does anyone recall the minor coverage of the increased size of the city PR department since Vision took over? I especially enjoyed how most of the "experts" consulted by media were PR hacks who claimed the department needed to be bigger. By focussing their propaganda on "green" issues in general and cycling they managed to control much if the public debate and distract the public when necessary. The Point Grey Road closure and the brouhaha about a bike path through Hadden & Kits. Beach parks is a perfect example of how Vision manipulate the story.

      The bike path was initially broken to the public after an outraged local resident noticed a path marked out, extra outrage guaranteed by running it through a picnic table. Vision Parks Board drones denied they had anything to do with it and there were many column inches devoted to the issue, with bike advocates eager to take up the cause. Meanwhile the simmering plan to close Point Grey Road gained public momentum thanks to a "petition" and claims of danger for cyclists on that stretch. Once the Mayor had purchased property in the area the issues came to council and the road was closed. Meanwhile the bike path would pop up in the news to keep people associating the closure of Point Grey Road with bikes rather than 1%ers, including the Mayor.

      Vision are delaying hearing about major development plans until later in the year, most of them after the next election. I doubt they will make any decisions regarding development, including their master plan for "densification," until after the next election. They need to keep their majority on council but the opposition is fragmented, often dogmatic and generally disorganized.

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      e.a.f.

      Feb 19, 2014 at 2:26pm

      who those rents are affordable for is beyond me. It certainly isn't those working at near or at min. wage. Affordable housing used to mean 25% to 30% of your gross yearly income. That is affordable. anything lese is simply a way for developers to have exemptions without providing anything useful to society in general.

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      Mark

      Feb 19, 2014 at 3:07pm

      Even a single adult making over the median Vancouver wage can barely afford a studio at those prices, which truly are market prices, not affordable rental costs. You have to remember that people pay taxes on their income, they have to pay for MSP, electricity, they have to eat, and then often they have to pay off some kind of debt, usually a student loan.

      It's just another way that the Vision-less party can get away with allowing so much density to go up, and not having to face why market rental rates are not going down.

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      Save Vancouver

      Feb 19, 2014 at 6:50pm

      Mayor Moonbeam really thinks $1,433 a month for a studio is affordable? He's dumber than I thought. Or really, really out of touch.

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      @G

      Feb 19, 2014 at 9:41pm

      I agree. Until the opposition can find a leader and organize itself against Vision, they will win another election.

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      D. Zaster

      Feb 20, 2014 at 5:02am

      "Mayor Moonbeam" is quite an inaccurate nickname. In reality, Gregor is a very slick, very canny politician - there's nothing moonbeamy about this guy. He's accomplished a very neat trick: he has co-opted his allies (and competition) on the left while neutralizing most of his opponents on the right.

      He has gotten a lot of mileage out of his carefully constructed image as a grassroots consensus-seeking - while in reality governing in the controlling style of the business owner-CEO he used to be. He walks and talks like a crunchy, small-is-good, green/sustainability progressive, while giving big developers free reign to densify the city and multiply their profits.

      Few Vancouverites understand how far-reaching the changes to their city will be as a result of Gregor's policies. We are heading into a denser, more congested, less liveable future thanks to this mayor.

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      enough already

      Feb 20, 2014 at 2:26pm

      Suing does no one any good.
      If anything the rental 100 program was meant to increase inventory so this would alleviate the problem....yet there are those who oppose it?
      Understand the rental market is determined by simple supply and demand economics, so it’s a little confusing why people who rent (80% of the westend) think the price should be dropping if these projects are not going to be built?
      "the developers price is still too high"
      they are responding to the market (which is affordable to some otherwise they wouldn’t be rented), otherwise you’re saying that "affordable" means subsidized, which once again is not a good use of tax payers money.
      "the city is giving to much away"
      maybe true, but by offering no incentive there is no reason economically to build a rental building. It’s easier to build a condo and make a quicker return on profit. So to be clear, no incentives = no rental project = less product/same demand = greater increase in prices.
      Whether you like it or not (under the current rental market) if you want to live in this city you will have to pay more or move out. This is simple (but painful economics (don't shoot the messenger) until the supply is increases. by suing to only hinders the process in getting new product on the market.

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      ODDS BODKIN

      Feb 20, 2014 at 5:00pm

      @enough already
      Your post makes total sense. People who rent in those STIR projects would only be taking other rental units in the West End, so the supply has increased which can only help, albeit marginally at this time.
      Don't most people in the West End live in developer built projects? Only incentives can encourage developers to build rental housing in the downtown area. The economics simply aren't there! When was the last time market rental units were built in that area? For decades now, almost none.
      Sue and play politics if you will, but that won't solve the problem.

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      To: "Odds" and "Enough"

      Feb 20, 2014 at 5:45pm

      Aquilini is building 600 rental units at BC Place without incentives from the taxpayer wallet. So clearly the economics do support rental units. Existing zoning in the West End doesn't allow condo development at these densities, so condo development is not "easier to build." Zoning would have been a much better way to "incent" rentals than giving away muncipal money. By the City's own admission, this lawsuit has already caused the City to "clean up it's act" on administering these programs, so while it shouldn't be necessary to sue, the current City administration doesn't seem to respond to many other sources of public input.

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