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Fourteen more lawsuits filed against owners accused of abusing condo program

The lawsuits claim defendants “intentionally undermined” the program for personal benefits

B.C. Housing has filed an ­additional 14 lawsuits against owners of Victoria condos. It claims the owners took improper advantage of an affordable-housing program and says there are likely more suits coming.

The lawsuits involve purchasers of units at Vivid at the Yates at 845 Johnson St., a 20-storey tower that was built as part of a pilot project for B.C.’s affordable home-ownership program.

The goal was to give middle-income people who might not otherwise be able to afford real estate an opportunity to buy homes at below-market prices, the lawsuits say. They say defendants “intentionally undermined” the program for personal benefit and their conduct has had negative repercussions for all British Columbians.

“Nothing can destroy a scheme more easily and more rapidly than abuse of that system,” the lawsuits say.

A Ministry of Housing spokesperson said B.C. Housing filed 14 lawsuits against owners in the 135-unit building this week. That’s on top of the ones that had been filed before this week, many of which were filed in 2022. Twenty-two civil suits were underway as of Thursday, the ministry said.

B.C. Housing will continue to initiate civil suits in the coming weeks, the spokesperson said. The lawsuits accuse the buyers of purchasing units and never living in them, despite a requirement of the program that they live in the units as a primary residence for at least two years.

Purchasers were required to have a household income of less than $150,000 per year and attend an education session on the affordable ­home-ownership program, the suits say.

The agency is asking owners to sell the units back to B.C. Housing at the original purchase price, minus legal costs and taxes, and is also seeking punitive damages and all rental income received.

Nineteen units have been returned to B.C. Housing without litigation, the ministry said. Of those, nine have been re-sold to “qualifying middle-income households” and 10 are for sale, the ministry said.

It was not able to say what the current criteria is for buyers and who is vetting them.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon previously said the developer of the building, Chard Developments, was ­responsible for vetting original buyers. The company is not commenting while the matter is before the courts, and B.C. Housing says it’s not pursuing litigation against Chard.

The province provided a low-interest $52.9-million loan to Chard to finance construction, which allowed the developer to pass savings on to buyers. Units were sold to purchasers for an average of 12 per cent below market prices, B.C. Housing said in a 2021 news release when construction finished.

Carolina Ibarra, CEO of Pacifica Housing, which owns and operates 19 properties with subsidized housing units in Victoria and Nanaimo, said she hopes the concerns around buyers in the Vivid building won’t affect the province’s willingness to try affordable-housing plans.

“In a housing crisis, we need all types of housing, and that includes affordable home ownership, because it frees up rentals for other people who aren’t ready or may never be ready to buy a home. And we also need a government that’s willing to try new things,” Ibarra said.

As disappointing as it is that some people might try to take advantage of a program, it seems the appropriate mechanisms are in place to address those concerns, she said.

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