Conflict of Interest & Oak Bay's APC (Advisory Planning Commission)

At the July 3rd, 2018 meeting of the APC, commission member Virginia Holden, who was also employed by the Housing Policy Branch of the BC Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, gave a presentation promoting the development of affordable housing in Oak Bay. Community members in attendance described her presentation as a blatant sales pitch for the proposal by the Oak Bay United Church Development Team (OBUC-DT).

The OBUC-DT’s application to the District of Oak Bay was filed a few weeks after this meeting.

When brought to the attention of Mayor and Council at that time this conflict was considered to be likely non-actionable as Ms. Holden was not receiving any direct financial benefit.

However, on November 4th, 2018 APC member Ms. Holden approached BC Housing expressing an interest to work with them on this development project, in a paid contract position.

(see FOI excerpts below)

On November 8th, Ms. Holden wrote again to BC Housing with a presentation/plan from her private company to work on the Oak Bay United Church project, which is currently being evaluated by the District’s Planning Department and will eventually be given to Council for a decision.

NOTE: The Advisory Planning Commission’s role is to  “… advise Council on matters respecting land use, community planning, or proposed bylaws and certain permits under Part 26 of the Local Government Act. And Official Community Plan amendment applications, rezoning applications and land use contract amendments to ensure proposed developments comply with the policies and objectives of the Official Community Plan.”

When an APC member meets with and lobbies other members of the commission while at the same time attempting to negotiate a pecuniary arrangement with the funder/developer isn’t she splitting her loyalty between two interests: one that potentially offers a financial interest and one that doesn’t.

How could this not create a conflict ?

Conclusion: When this development proposal comes before Council in due course, any advice from the Advisory Planning Commission must be considered tainted. It should be excluded from the decision-making process.

Update:

The CCN wrote to Mayor and Council on April 1, 2019 about these concerns but so far the only response has been a perfunctory acknowledgement.

On April 17th, 2019 The Concerned Citizens Network of Oak Bay approached Mr. Malcolm McNaughton of BC Housing regarding these communications between him and the APC member with a copy of the emails between them (from our FOI request).

His response: “I can confirm that BC Housing does not have a contract with Ms. Holden.”

He does not say that her company doesn’t have a contract, nor does he address her past or future relationship with BC Housing.

IMG_0987v2.jpg

From: BC Housing FOI Request #30-13218

On 4 November 2018 Ms. (Ginnie) Holden wrote to Malcolm McNaughton and Armin Amrolia of BC Housing:

“Thanks for taking the time to meet with me on Friday. It was great to see you both and appreciate your willingness and flexibility for me to work with your team. Overall, I am interested to start something with BC Housing in the new year in some shape or form.  In terms of Oak Bay United, [redacted] I just want to understand what the possibilities are. I’m meeting the [redacted] on Tuesday so I will reconnect with Malcolm after that discussion. I walked through the neighbourhood around the OB church yesterday to get a better sense of the neighbours` concerns more clearly.”

On 8 November 2018, Ms. Holden wrote:

“I met with the Chair of the Oak Bay planning commission as well as the other members on Tuesday [redacted] I would just need to step out of deliberations any time that the project is discussed or reviewed. This is common practice whenever there is a perceived conflict of interest to the project under discussion. Given this decision, I would be interested working with BC Housing.”

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