Housing: we all need it! It’s a big problem when you don’t have it! There isn’t enough of it, and what exists is real expensive! Complaining about it is practically a local pastime to distract us from the grim reality that if we get demovicted, our budgets will force us to move to Pitt freakin’ Meadows.
The latest report from liv.rent reckons the average rental price of an unfinished one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver has topped $2,500. Ominous toilet hallways are being rented out as “cozy studio units” now. Politicians have spent literal decades discussing the need for more housing—and yet here we are: with low inventories, skyrocketing rents, and the foreboding sense that things will only get worse.
Audit to BC Housing: WTF?
An in-depth audit of BC Housing by Ernst and Young found “mismanagement related to a significant conflict of interest” by former CEO Shayne Ramsay. Ramsay’s wife, Janice Abbott, headed Atira Women’s Resource Society—and the audit found Ramsay repeatedly directed funding to Atira.
The report found Atira received $35 million more than the next highest housing provider in 2022—$74.1 million that year, more than thrice its $21.2 million funding in 2018—which BC Housing distributed despite what the audit called “ineffective” financial oversight processes. Senior staff were also found to have deleted text messages, altered meeting minutes, and signed off on million-dollar spends without following the rules.
Together, these factors affected “BC Housing’s ability to make appropriate decisions, placed a significant risk to public funds, and call[ed] into question the diligence with which these funds are dispersed to Atira,” the audit concluded.
In the days since, more details have come out about Atira’s sketchy financial practices, such as its purchase of Columbia Hotel for $7.8 million over asking price.
As a result of the fallout, both Ramsay and Abbott have resigned from their positions at Nch’kay Development and Atira, respectively; and Atira has given back almost $2 million to the government and announced it will launch a review.
ABC scales back Empty Homes Tax
In its election platform, ABC promised to “continue to support the Empty Homes Tax while initiating a review to better identify residents unintentionally captured by the policy (e.g. those waiting for renovation or re-development permits).”
That’s still technically happening—but following a city staff report conducted with Ernst & Young that recommended reducing the Empty Homes Tax (EHT) from five per cent to three per cent, the council voted on party lines to do exactly that.
In the report, staff argue that the rate should be kept at three per cent to observe what effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on vacancies; to ensure “fairness and the core objectives of EHT”; and because raising the tax rate would “require additional audit/compliance resources to address the risk of evasion.”
The number of empty homes in Vancouver fell from 1,010 in 2017 to 502 in 2022. It is unclear why the report was so insistent that the increase to five per cent would lead to higher evasion, as this was not clearly explained. An amendment from OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle calling to strengthen enforcement failed to pass.
Staff also recommended that new developments be exempt from the tax to prevent developers paying additional fees. ABC Coun. Mike Klassen went a step further with an amendment backdating this rule to 2022. It passed on party lines, leading to the city paying back $2.4 million and decreasing expected revenue this year by $3.8 million.
"In the grand scheme of things, it is a relatively small amount of money," Klassen said. Earlier this year, the city passed a property tax increase of 10.7 per cent and announced the creation of a Budget Task Force to find cost cuts.
Since its inception, the EHT has raised $115.3 million up to November 2022, money which was earmarked for affordable housing initiatives in the city.
In a statement, Boyle said, “This won't build the homes we need. This isn't leadership. This is a taxpayer money giveaway. And it's completely unacceptable."
Vancouver’s tallest residential tower will be ribbed for your pleasure
Plans for a 60-storey residential tower at 1075 Nelson Street have been unveiled. Long story short, the city’s tallest apartment block is going to be real wiggly.
Construction on CURV is set to begin in 2024 and wrap up in 2029. When complete, it will be the tallest passive house building in the world. Passive houses meet a certification for energy efficiency that means they consume up to 90 per cent less energy than conventional buildings, and typically top out at around 12 storeys, according to the building’s architect, Tom Wright.
CURV will add 501 units to Vancouver’s housing supply—358 of them luxury condos, and 96 designated as social housing. The project’s website says the building’s curvaceous design is “organic,” and will “advance [Vancouver’s] aspiration to be the greenest [city] in the world.”
But, c’mon… it definitely has a touch of sex toy about it.