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Victoria affordable housing units bought by wealthy investors, lawsuits allege

Vivid building was supposed to be for middle income buyers, accused say program requirements met
The Vivid building on Johnson Street in Victoria on March 6. (Mark Page/News Staff)

The B.C. government has filed 13 separate lawsuits against buyers of condos at Victoria’s Vivid building, accusing them of violating purchase agreements requiring them to live in the units as a primary residence for at least two years, while also suggesting the buyers were actually wealthy investors taking advantage of a below-market rate affordable housing program.

The real estate agent involved in many of the transactions, Janet Yu, also bought one of the units for herself, but denies any wrongdoing.

This has raised questions about a project supposed to be the model for getting middle-income buyers into the market.

“It’s outrageous that people would, investors would, take advantage of housing that’s being made available for people who are struggling to find housing in our communities,” Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon told reporters on Tuesday (March 5).

Kahlon did say eight of the lawsuits have been resolved with the buyers selling the units back to B.C. Housing. The rest are continuing to contest the lawsuits. Kahlon said the government is going to proceed with the suits until the units are sold back to BC Housing.

The 135-unit building involved was built starting in 2017 using a $52.9 million low-interest loan from the province. At the time, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps called it a “model” affordable housing project.

Buyers of these units were required to have an income of less than $150,000 per year, live on site for two years, and attend an Affordable Home Ownership Program education session.

Court documents lay out a case against each individual, listing other properties they own, as well as tidbits of information such as one buyer who never booked the elevator for move-in or another who never set up their intercom system.

Many of the buyers have other homes worth more than $1 million, including one who owns six other homes worth a combined $7.75 million. Others are accused of renting out their apartments, contravening the strata rules as well as the purchase agreement.

A lawyer for Yu said his client is contesting the allegation that she didn’t live on site while pointing out the government’s lawsuit includes lots of information about Yu’s other properties and the commissions from her Vivid sales — which allegedly total $49,800 excluding GST— but claimed that none of that constitutes any sort of violation.

“There’s a raft of information contained in the notice of civil claim,” lawyer Michael Hutchison told Black Press Media. “But the only fact that is alleged to be a breach by my client is that it is alleged she didn’t live in the premises for the two-year period.”

The government’s court filing says that Yu lives in a home near Cordova Bay and not in the Vivid building.

On Tuesday afternoon Yu was not at the Cordova home, though a person who answered the door was able to reach Yu by phone. Yu said on the phone that she was at the Vivid apartment, and that was where she lived, though that could not be confirmed.

She also said she was “stressed” by all the attention this case is getting and that she hopes to be judged fairly by the courts, rather than by the public.

Lawyers for the government had pursued Yu for records relating to her other homes and income, but B.C. Supreme Court Master Carolyn Bouck rejected this request, calling it “overly broad, premature or simply not supported” by the rest of the government’s case.

Yu’s filing in response to this request called it “a fishing expedition of the plainest nature, one might say without a fishing license.”

A program ‘intentionally undermined’

Court filings against each buyer argue they had “intentionally undermined” the affordable housing program for personal benefit, calling this behaviour “egregious and reprehensible.”

All of the purchases were made in 2018 when the affordable housing program involved was in its infancy.

Since then, more “robust” criteria have been added, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing. This includes a provision that people are not allowed to own property anywhere else in the world, as well as extending the requirement for a person to keep the unit as a primary residence to five years.

Owners are required to fill out an annual “principal residence declaration,” and to provide proof they are living at the residence, according to a government spokesperson.

BC United housing critic Peter Milobar called out the government for not doing its due diligence when this project was first introduced.

“The fact that there was such little oversight and double checking people’s applications is shocking,” Milobar said.

READ MORE: ‘Model’ housing project in the works for downtown Victoria

About the Author: Mark Page

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