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Les Leyne: Vivid housing lawsuits embarrass NDP

The province has been in court chasing a dozen or more people who allegedly lied their way into buying affordable housing when they didn’t qualify.

B.C.’s Housing Ministry was only too happy to trumpet its involvement in the Vivid condo building in downtown Victoria when it was finished in 2021. The minister responsible — now Premier David Eby — was eager to promote it.

The ministry has issued almost 400 news releases in the three years since then and Eby and his successor, Ravi Kahlon, have done countless media interviews on every housing topic under the sun.

There was an initial burst of enthusiasm when the Vivid opened. But afterward, the government did not mention it strongly suspected it had been conned by a number of people who bought suites in the building.

They also stayed mute about the blizzard of lawsuits against buyers, claiming “egregious and reprehensible” conduct.

None of that came to light until the CBC’s Jason Proctor combed through court records. This week he reported the province has been in court for more than a year chasing a dozen or more people who allegedly lied their way into buying units at the Vivid that were meant for first-time buyers only.

B.C. fronted a $53-million low-interest loan to Chard Developments for one reason. It would lower construction costs enough that purchase prices could be cut. The savings would be “passed on to qualifying buyers so units could be purchased at below-market prices.”

To ensure the benefit was going where it was intended, the units were available only to people making under $150,000 a year who did not own any other property.

But the huge court files are full of evidence backing government claims that a dozen or so people moved in who owned multiple other homes worth millions. There is evidence some of them didn’t even occupy the units — one of the qualifying conditions. There’s evidence they ignored the covenants on every unit specifying the qualifications, and ignored the in-person lessons about the conditions before their deals closed.

As the Times Colonist’s Roxanne Egan-Elliott reported Wednesday, there’s also evidence asserting that one real estate agent, Janet Yu, handled many of those deals, made $53,000 in commissions and bought one of the units herself. She doesn’t live there and owns other properties, a government lawsuit asserts.

So much for filling the “missing middle” of the housing market in order to help first-time buyers and middle-income people.

Eby told the Times Colonist the terms of the unique arrangement left the checking of buyers to Chard.

Hearing of units purchased but not occupied, the Housing Ministry started investigating soon after Vivid opened.

Chard had no comment this week, saying the situation is before the courts.

But in November 2022 the firm was proud to post that it won a real estate development award for Vivid.

It said the building “represented a first-of-its-kind attainable homeownership opportunity through a unique partnership with B.C. Housing.”

The sale prices at the time were eight to 21 per cent below market value, it said.

A month after the awards ceremony, the lawsuits started flying against the buyers.

The government says it has undone some of the deals. But as Proctor reported, some fresh new lawsuits were filed recently on grounds similar to all the rest.

It looks like they have a long way to go to belatedly protect the goals of their investment.

The basic mistake was to trust the developer to double-check that taxpayers’ $53 million was achieving what was intended.

When it was raised in the legislature Wednesday, Eby said the deal was set up under the B.C. Liberal government.

But that government went under in 2017. He was housing minister for four years by the time the building opened.

He said he was briefed that the terms were inadequate and that he was the one who started chasing the buyers.

“I told B.C. Housing: ‘Go to court. Hold these people accountable.”

“I cleaned up mess after mess after mess these guys left. … This was just one more example.”

His pride in taking credit for pursuing this scam is undercut by the dead quiet way his embarrassed government was trying to fix this mess.

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