City gives developers and staff the power to determine what constitutes “affordable rental housing”
(Vancouver , February 4, 2014) Continuing its legal battle with the City of Vancouver , West End Neighbours (WEN) yesterday filed an amended petition for Judicial Review in the B.C. Supreme Court Registry.
WEN Director, Virginia Richards said, “The City isn’t helping renters. It’s helping developers. “Affordable rental housing” is basically whatever City staff and developers say it is.
WEN continues to assert that the City’s Rental 100 program (formerly STIR) gives incentives to developers without obtaining the intended benefit in return: affordable rental housing. The Vancouver Charter permits the City to waive Development Cost Levies (DCLs) for the creation of “affordable rental housing”. But the City has interpreted this to mean almost any “rental housing,” regardless of affordability.
WEN filed the original petition on September 19, 2013 asking the court to set aside sections of the City’s DCL bylaws granting waivers for “for profit affordable rental housing.” WEN alleged, among other things, that the Bylaw unlawfully granted the City Manager the power to determine what constitutes affordable rental housing. As a result of WEN’s Petition, the City amended its bylaws. The amended bylaws set out for the first time what the City considered to be “affordable.” The numbers shocked many: “agreed upon average rents per unit type for initial occupancy do not exceed…” $1,443 per month for a studio, $1,517 for a one bedroom unit, and $2061 for a two bedroom.
WEN says the amendments adopted on December 3, 2013, two days before the scheduled Court hearing, are also contrary to the Vancouver Charter. Virginia Richards said: “The only real difference between the current sections of the bylaws and previous sections is that now the developers and city staff get to decide whether a development is “affordable,” instead of the City Manager.”
The Bylaws set out maximum units sizes and maximum average rents. It also requires that the “proposed” construction costs not exceed $2,475 per square meter. City staff and the developer must then agree to the average rents for initial occupancy. Once again, however, the Council has not set out any criteria to guide city staff in determining what the “agreed upon” rents should be. The result is that the rents do not have to be “affordable” at all. Developers can build smaller units, charge higher rents and still qualify for a DCL waiver. WEN states that just because the monthly cost of owning a condominium unit may be greater than the cost of renting its equivalent, this does not mean that the rental unit is “affordable.”
West End Neighbours, a non-profit society registered under the BC Society Act, is a coalition of volunteers who recognise the unique character of their community and strive to maintain the core assets and relationships within the neighbourhood.