If it's not viable, who will be liable?

To Oak Bay Planning Dept., Mayor and Council Copy Acting Chief Administrative Office

13 March 2019

Re: OBUC project ZON00034, DP000022

No Viability, just Liability

The dictionary defines viability, in the commercial sense, as the ability of a business product or service to make a profit.  This is certainly the definition intended when used by this  developer as the principal purpose of their project is to make enough money/profit  to keep the church going for the next hundred years. This amount has never been disclosed.  

The first time ‘viability’ appears is March 2017 when the church’s website describes meeting with BC Housing with ‘a financial model to estimate potential viability and risk to satisfy the church board and shown to BC Housing to secure a project planning loan’.  Our Freedom of information reports had the dollar amount to ensure viability redacted.    Viability (or amount of profit the developer needs to make) initially required a building  of 269 affordable units in a 6-storey L shaped tower, for BC Housing’s application for funding.  OK, said BC Housing.  The District of Oak Bay Planning staff  also were apparently “supportive of this project and the proposed development met the objectives of the local Planning Department” – again from a Freedom of information report obtained by neighbours .

From the beginning the terms ‘viability’ and ‘affordable housing’ went hand-in-hand, but with ever-changing definitions.  By March 2018 the 269 units of affordable housing morphed into 123 units of affordable housing and 14 market units.  By May 2018, there were 50 units of affordable housing and 46 market and long-term lease units.   Between March and May 2018, the name of the development changed from “Affordable Housing Project” to Neighbourhood Housing Initiative – with the word affordable no longer part of the description.

In an October 2018 submission to a Request for Proposals by the  BC Community Housing Fund, the developer applied for a grant based on using revenues from market units to subsidize the affordable units. The developer stated in this submission (available through FOI request 30-11318). “if grant support is not obtained or planning costs rise more units may have to be switched into being market units to safeguard breakeven.”  Also that “certain terms of the RFP conflict with the high cost of development in Oak Bay such that the level of grants and rental stipulations would prevent achieving breakeven”

In conclusion, the developer states “Due to the high cost of building in Oak Bay we unfortunately cannot meet the rental level requirements of the RFP since they would render the project unviable”.

Before proceeding further with the developer’s Rezoning Application, might I suggest that the Planning Department, Councillors and Mayor request confirmation of what the affordable rents for this project will be.  Based on the apparently new information that there is a “high cost of building in Oak Bay” and that “more units may have to be switched into being market units to safeguard breakeven” it seems that this could turn out to be a non-affordable development.

Photo from Pexel - photographer Juhasz Imre

Photo from Pexel - photographer Juhasz Imre

Thank you.  

B. Judson

The way it should be done T-C February 13, 2019

This letter raises an interesting question – what if polls revealed the underlying bias with which they were conducted? - From the Times Colonist.

You can read the original letter here and the editorial column it responds to here (the original column is mostly about political polling):

A simple message to the Oak Bay United Church and its Development Team

Our principles are simple:

  • We don’t have secrets.

  • We have nothing to hide. 

  • We have this website.

  • We put signs outside our houses.

  • We send letters to the editor for everyone to see.  

We think the idea of appropriate affordable housing on the parking lot is laudable. 

All we are asking from BC Housing, the OBUC and its development team is simple:

DON’T PRETEND.  DON’T BUILD WALLS.  PLEASE PUT INFORMATION OUT THERE - WITHOUT BEING ASKED. 

Photo from Pexel.

Photo from Pexel.

FOI Results Could Be A Disapppointment - T-C February 8, 2019

To The Editor, The Times Colonist

Re: “Reform storm gathers steam,” column, Feb. 6.

Les Leyne’s column on extending freedom of information to the legislature made me smile. Anyone who has ever taken out an FOI request for a government body to provide what should be publicly available information is advised not to hold their breath while it is being prepared. When it does finally arrive (after a very long wait) 99 per cent could be redacted.

In a case where citizens in our neighbourhood tried to get some straightforward information from B.C. Housing, there was one little gem that wasn’t redacted in the FOI results we received. It involved a consultant telling B.C. Housing how to circumvent the FOI rules.

Simple: The client should not address anything to B.C. Housing. Instead, address it to a third party and mark it “confidential — contains proprietary information,” so it’s third-party confidential and thus secret.
Don’t think because you’d like to see what’s going on in our provincial government you can find out through FOI. You can’t, and when your large package of almost blank pages arrive, you will feel as Speaker Darryl Plecas described: You’ll want to vomit.

B.G. Judson
Oak Bay

Read the original letter to the Times Colonist online here.

Page 300 from BC Housing FOI 30-0518

Page 300 from BC Housing FOI 30-0518

Most pages in response to our FOI requests look like this:

P 302 from BC Housing FOI 30-0518

P 302 from BC Housing FOI 30-0518

A review of BC Housing FOI response 30-11318

To:  Malcolm McNaughton, Armin Amrolia,  BC Housing

CC::  Mayor and Councillors, Oak Bay Municipality. Dr. Andrew Weaver, MLA Oak Bay

 February 7 2019

A review of the FOI response from BC Housing (30-11318) leads to the following observations on its contents.  

 On 17 September 2018, just over one month after the development team for Oak Bay United Church (DT-OBUC) delivered its rezoning/development package to Oak Bay’s Planning Department, they submitted a request for further funding to BC Housing under RFP1070-1819/016.

The covering letter for this submission says “On August 2018 we applied for rezoning and development permit for 96 residential units. Of these 39 units are market rental and sale units, income from which subsidizes 57 affordable housing units. This will replace and expand an existing 9-unit affordable housing operation.” (emphasis added)

This is a surprising statement given that (a) the rezoning and development permit applications to Oak Bay Municipality did not contain this information and (b) there are several factors that make their RFP submission ineligible for BC Housing funding.

As there is a significant investment of taxpayers’ money in this project, this RFP submission raises the following concerns:

  •  The “existing 9 unit affordable housing operation” is a building that is currently rented to and operated by the Threshold Housing Society as transitional housing for youth-at-risk. OBUC Minutes dated August 20, 2017 state that Threshold Housing Society has 4 years remaining on a five year lease with the church. Threshold provided $60,000 for repairs before moving in and their loan is being repaid in the form of $1,000 rent reduction per month with a current balance as of August 1 2017 of $47,000.

  • The OBUC Minutes state “the building is in good repair with the exception of the roof”. Coast Capital and other sponsors agreed to sponsor Threshold for the next five years.

  • It is a misrepresentation of the facts for the DT-OBUC to claim this as “existing affordable housing”.

  • The Minutes of the AGM of OBUC (June 10, 2018) state “It has been determined that Threshold House cannot be maintained on site while also positioning the Affordable Neighbourhood Housing on the property”

The development submission to Oak Bay Municipality shows the building will be demolished.

 In OBUC Minutes (August 20, 2017) under “Background to the motion to borrow $500,000 from BC Housing for the Planning Phase of Affordable Rental Housing”, they list the following reasons for the need to borrow this money (under the guise of Affordable Housing)

“If the development is to be considered feasible for the OBUC – it has to

  • Require no funding from OBUC

  • Provide a benefit to the community

  • Provide approximately 5,000 square feet of replacement space for church offices and programs

  • Provide funding to retire the mortgage and make repairs to the sanctuary

  • Upgrade the kitchen

  • Provide on-going income of at least $100,000 a year.”

One might think that the Church’s governing body could help provide the required funds but, according to the Oak Bay United Church Minutes of August 20, 2017, the United Church of BC Conference Property Resource Team was consulted to see if they would fund a development feasibility study as they had for other congregations and they declined.

The Minutes show:

“Based on the known information at the time, PRT declined as redevelopment was considered unlikely based on zoning and density”. The Minutes then state “Not to be deterred, the congregation of OBUC allocated approximately $20,000 to hire consultant Chris Corps of Pivotal IRM and Waymark Architects to do our own development feasibility study. Subsequent work by the consultants has refined the business case to the point where BC Housing is prepared to provide an initial loan for project development funding UP TO $500,000 for the project development phase”.

DT-OBUC were permitted by the congregation to borrow a further $300,000 from BC Housing for development funding (OBUC Minutes September 18, 2018) for a total of $800,000.

On September 17, 2018 DT-OBUC submitted an RFP for more funding from BC Housing knowing that their submission failed to meet eligibility requirements. Their letter of application says that they were encouraged by BC Housing to submit this non-conforming proposal anyway.

When the proposal to build an affordable housing project on the OBUC’s small piece of excess land was first raised in the community, it was universally considered to be a good idea. Some months later, neighbours attended meetings and an open house organized by the DT-OBUC that revealed no meaningful community input was being sought. The plans were already drawn, even though the DT-OBUC had told the community (on 16 August 2017) they were working with a ‘blank sheet of paper’. Oak Bay United Church had clearly already decided what they had to build in order to generate the cash flow from such a project. The community’s suggestions of a compromise on size and density were ignored.

In December 2017 neighbours were asked to rubber-stamp one set of drawings or another, out of several alternatives none of which reflected any of the local concerns about the size and impact of this massive project on a single-family zoned block.

The DT-OBUC, having engaged a public relations company funded by BC Housing, has attempted to discredit anyone who doesn’t agree with them as a vocal minority and/or ‘an organized opposition group’

Organized? Yes. Minority? No. A quick walk around the neighbourhood shows increasing opposition to this project. The protest signs that once graced only a yard or two now appear in abundance. Again, you are invited to review the web-site www.ccn-oakbay.com

What should citizens do when their collective voice as stakeholders in the community is overlooked? Should we sit back and watch BC Housing throw money at a project that ostensibly is to provide affordable housing but where the real agenda is something more prosaic – to build a ‘community space’ to be paid for by tenants and to provide a revenue stream for an institution whose congregation is declining and its revenue base shrinking. The DT-OBUC continue to quote manipulated data from their self-created and self-serving public relations polls to push an aggressive, overreaching and inappropriate proposal.

Isn’t it time for someone at BC Housing to engage with the local community and to examine this proposal more closely?

Is anybody listening?

Is anybody listening?

B. G. Judson

Investigation needed - Times Colonist October 12, 2018

Some history to the letter that follows:
Many of us have asked, on numerous occasions, for the names of the people who comprise the Development Team driving the OBUC’s proposed project.

secret pexels-photo-315918.png


To date, we have asked the OBUC directly, in emails, letters, and, on October 1, on Facebook on the Oak Bay Municipal Election Discussion page. Here is a screenshot of that conversation:

When that didn’t work, we wrote to the Executive Committee of the BC Conference, United Church of Canada (October 6, 2018) about this and a few other matters.
To date, the senior branch of the church has not provided the names of the Development Team, nor do they seem to have encouraged the OBUC to share this information in the spirit of transparency.

Curiosity.jpeg

Then, on October 9th, the Times-Colonist published an article titled Oak Bay mayoral candidates at odds on housing. This piece, written by Richard Watts, repeated many of the OBUC’s favourite refrains.
Following is one response to the inaccuracies in that report. Also in this letter the question is asked again: Who is the Development Team?
The longer that this vital information is withheld, the greater our curiosity - and the more this important question will continue to be asked.