A B.C. Supreme Court judge has dismissed a petition by a West End residents’ group that challenged a city program aimed at providing so-called affordable rental housing for residents with moderate incomes.
The West End Neighbours Residents Society had argued the city’s Short Term Incentives for Rental program, or STIR, subsidized developers who failed to build homes at rent prices for households earning between $21,500 and $86,500 per year.
“Despite the thoughtful arguments advanced by the petitioner, I find that the petitioner’s position falls into the category of criticism of council’s political choices,” wrote Madam Justice Susan Griffin in her May 30 ruling. “That is not a matter on which the court ought to weigh in. Instead, the forum for these arguments is the ballot box.”
The society also questioned how the units built under the program could be considered affordable when STIR was set up as “for profit.”
“The subjective nature of what is ‘for-profit’ and the relative nature of ‘affordability’ creates considerable room for disagreement, but I also find that it creates considerable room for council to exercise its judgment,” Griffin said. “I conclude that this is what it has done.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a short statement Friday, saying he was pleased the judge dismissed the petition and acknowledged the city was within its rights to provide incentives to developers to build rental housing.
“Enabling new affordable rental housing is a top priority of our work at city hall, and I’m glad to see the court validate evidence that new rental housing contributes to housing affordability over the long term,” the mayor said.
The society’s petition pointed out rents originally noted in council documents had increased — in some cases, substantially — once rental buildings were completed.
For example, rent for a studio apartment at a rental building at 1142 Granville St. was estimated in a May 2010 council report at $960 per month. The studios, which are fully furnished, now rent between $1,260 and $1,400 per month.
Under the STIR program, the city waived almost $9 million in development cost levies from 19 projects, which created 1,329 market rental units. Five of the projects included a mix of rental and condos for sale.
Developers received an increase in density, had applications fast-tracked and weren’t required to build as many parking spots.
The society’s petition challenged the city manager’s authority to select which developers are eligible for development costs to be waived.
A few days before the society’s petition was heard in court in December 2013, the city amended its bylaws regarding the rental program — now called Rental 100 — to ensure all future developments would be 100 per cent rental.
City council adopted the amendments and agreed fees will only be waived where the agreed upon average rents for initial occupancy do not exceed the following specified rents by more than 10 per cent:
- $1,443 per month for a studio
- $1,517 per month for a one-bedroom
- $2,061 for a two-bedroom
- $2,743 for a three-bedroom.
Society director Randy Helten told the Courier Monday he was happy the city made the changes to the rental program but was disappointed in the judge’s decision.
“We can declare a partial victory because of the fact we launched the petition and it forced the city to blink,” he said, referring to council’s amendments. “We forced the city to show their cards and to actually put [rent] numbers on what they consider to be affordable rental housing.”