Status update – WEN legal challenge on STIR and Rental 100 programs

WEN logo Raster RGBThis is an update on WEN’s court case with the City of Vancouver regarding the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR) and Rental 100. As of today, May 9, exactly a month has passed since the first of two days in court, with lawyer Nathalie Baker presenting our case, and two City of Vancouver lawyers presenting theirs. Justice Susan Griffin heard the case on April 9 and 10. A decision is pending, but no date announced.

Our case seeks to quash bylaws that override existing zoning guidelines, violate the Vancouver Charter, and give exceedingly sweet incentives to developers — to construct what turns out to be very expensive rental housing. There are many examples of such projects around the city, but two major examples in the West End are The Alexandra (formerly Maxines, at Bidwell and Davie), and The Lauren (formerly St. John’s Church, at Comox and Broughton).  See more detail here and original story here. Media coverage in recent months has been in the Georgia Straight: West End residents take Vision Vancouver to court over market housing policy(Carlito Pablo, 19-Feb-2014) and Vancouver Courier (Bob Mackin, 10-Apr-2014) provides the latest coverage in “West End Neighbours society wonders what is affordable.” A letter (text copied below) from Mayor Gregor Robertson was printed in the Vancouver Sun on April 10, apparently timed for our court dates, to which a response (text copied below) by local resident Ric Langford was published on April 14.

We invite you to read those articles for more information. Meanwhile, the City continues to aggressively move ahead with more rezoning projects under the Rental 100 program, even while the matter remains before the courts.

To support our legal costs by donating online or by cheque, please click here. (Everything we do is based on volunteer time, but we do need donations to pay legal costs.) For more information on donating or the details of the legal case, write us at info@westendneighbours.ca.

A new legal challenge against the City of Vancouver on May 6, 2014, brings to ten the number of court cases between citizens/neighbourhood groups and the City, as listed by CityHallWatch here

Excerpts from article by Bob Mackin, Vancouver Courier.

  • WEN claims the 2009-enacted Short-Term Incentives for Rental Housing (STIR) program and its 2012 successor, Rental 100, both violate the Vancouver Charter. The bylaws are intended to offer for-profit housing deemed affordable by the city based on the finishing, size, location, design and proposed rents.
  • City hall granted eligible developers density bonuses and relaxed parking requirements, but WEN claims proposed rents were not enforced. WEN also claims city hall waived $10 million of development cost levies — a tax on developers to fund sewage, roads, parks and other community amenities — between 2010 and 2013.
  • “The goal is market-rate rental housing and also to basically help the development industry,” WEN lawyer Nathalie Baker told the court in the first day of two scheduled days at the Law Courts.
  • Baker told the court the bylaw does not ensure agreed rents are affordable to any group of renters, but instead allows developers to avoid paying DCLs, build smaller units and charge more for rent. WEN court filings claim average West End bachelor suite rents are $902 per month, but a studio apartment of 450 square feet or under at $1,443 per month was deemed affordable by the city.
  • “They’re applying this 30% rule, they’re saying it’s affordable because people with a moderate income earning category can rent these without paying 30% of their income,” Baker told the court. “Where that 30% rule comes from is CMHC’s definition of affordable. That definition doesn’t apply to any particular class of renters, it’s saying whether you’re low income or very high income, you’re spending 30% of your income on housing costs.”
  • City of Vancouver lawyer Iain Dixon admitted the concept of affordability is “nebulous” and “relativistic.” It depends on the market and the consumer, he said.
  • “Council has been asked to establish what affordable housing is, it’s looking at a whole myriad of policy and other considerations and concluded these are affordable,” Dixon said in court. “Unless that definition is clearly outside the ambit of what affordable could possibly mean, it’s not open to this court to interfere with it.”
  • He said that WEN is really interested in contesting rents the group thinks are too high.
  • “Projects have to be viable for the developers or they don’t get built,” he said. “That’s why the for-profit is in there.”

– See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/news/updated-west-end-neighbours-society-wonders-what-is-affordable-1.950526

Excerpts of Carlito Pablo article in Georgia Straight.

  • “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.
  • …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”.

Full article here: http://www.straight.com/news/590906/west-end-residents-take-vision-vancouver-court-over-market-housing-policy

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Mayor Gregor Robertson in Vancouver Sun, April 10, 2014

Headline: City tackling housing issue – Vancouver mayor says many initiatives underway to encourage rental units

Re: Editorials and op-eds on Vancouver and affordable housing

It’s great to see The Sun express concern about the crisis of affordable housing in Vancouver. And when it calls on gov-ernments to take action because we can’t count on an unfettered market to solve the problem, I couldn’t agree more.

However, they appear to have overlooked the fact that Vancouver’s municipal government has already taken significant steps.

The city’s Rental 100 Program stimulates the construction of rental units through incentives like reduced parking and expedited permitting. It’s fuelled a rental housing construction boom, with over 1,000 units ap¬proved each year since 2012. That’s a huge improvement over 2008, when no rental units were built. These units create more options for middle-class and young families to live in the city.

Vancouver is pursuing creative housing options that reflect the character of the neighbourhoods we love. We’re enabling laneway homes across the city, making it easier to build secondary suites, promoting low-rise townhouses and adding more rental units along transit corridors like Cambie.

New community plans in neighbourhoods like Marpole, the West End and the Downtown Eastside are driven by the urgent need to meet the affordability challenge. We’re preparing for the long term with plans that reduce property speculation and build the housing we need today, and our children need tomorrow.

Many cities are facing this affordability crunch, but in most other countries, national governments are investing in solutions. That’s not the case in Canada; let’s hope The Vancouver Sun keeps pressing our federal government to take action, as we have in Vancouver.

MAYOR GREGOR ROBERTSON, Vancouver

Response by West Ender Ric Langford, published in Vancouver Sun on April 14, 2014

Vancouver losing revenue

Re: City tackling housing issue, Letters, April 10

Mayor Gregor Robertson comments on the city’s Rental 100 program which has stimulated the construction of rental units through incentives like reduced parking and expedited permitting. He did not mention the incentive of the more than $10 million in development cost levies/charges (DCL or DCCs) waived by the city under Rental 100 program and STIR, the program it replaced.

DCLs are fees paid by developers and they are an important source of revenue for the city and help ensure new development pays its fair share of growth costs rather than placing the burden on existing taxpayers.

This was recognized by then NDP MLA Gregor Robertson in 2008 when he spoke in the legislature against allowing municipalities to waive development cost charges:

“By pulling away the development cost charges from local governments, it will only make things worse in many situations as local governments are starved out. Clearly they’re unable to escape the costs associated with development and those costs that are typically covered by DCCs. However, with DCCs being exempted or excluded from local government revenue, that means a shortage of funding.”

The city’s waiver of these DCLs under Rental 100 and STIR is a subject of a B.C. Supreme Court petition brought by West End Neighbours Society against the City of Vancouver in which the Society is asking the court whether the waivers for market rental housing are proper.

RIC LANGFORD, Vancouver

http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Monday+April+Heartburn+meds+need+warning/9730341/story.html

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