‘It’s a shame’: Vancouver builder says red tape killed DTES social housing project

Click to play video: 'Vancouver developer blames red tape for killing social housing project'
Vancouver developer blames red tape for killing social housing project
A Vancouver developer has come forward with another red tape horror story, one he says killed a social housing project. Kristen Robinson reports.

A Vancouver builder says he made the difficult decision to cancel a social housing project in the city’s Downtown Eastside due to a years-long nightmare process of trying to work with the city to secure a building permit.

Perdip Moore still struggles to understand why the property he purchased in 2014 sits vacant amid a housing crisis.

“It’s a shame,” the senior project manager for PD Moore Homes Inc. told Global News in an interview Tuesday.

“I find it really upsetting.”

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Moore said he bought the empty lot at 436 East Hastings while his wife was pregnant and the couple thought it would be a good way to give back to the community, given their business had seen 23 years of success.

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“When our child entered Kindergarten, at that point we kind of gave up on that portion of this venture,” recounted Moore.

In 2019, the city of Vancouver’s Development Permit Board approved an application for a seven-storey mixed use building at 436 East Hastings with ground level retail and 14 units of social housing plus eight units of market rental.

The 64 per cent social housing and 36 per cent market rental complied with the 60 per cent social housing and 40 per cent secured market rental requirements for new projects built beyond existing zoning in the DTES Oppenheimer District.

The City of Vancouver previously told Global News only one 60/40 building – 288 East Hastings – has been built since 2014.

Moore’s cancelled 60/40 project is the only other application the city has received since the Downtown Eastside (DTES) Plan was adopted in 2014.

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“This is an empty property that could be housing 22 people and it’s still sitting empty after nearly 10 years now,” Moore said.

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Developers have argued the 60/40 housing mix is not economically viable without huge government subsidies.

But PD Moore Homes Inc. said it offered to build 100 per cent social housing or 22 micro-units with no government funding. Moore also provided emails to Global News showing he had a non-profit partner willing to rent and operate the site once built.

“The city refused and said that what they want is the non-profit to be on title before they issue a building permit, which is essentially just putting the cart before the horse,” Moore said.

The City of Vancouver did not make anyone available for an interview but said following the application’s approval, city staff worked with the applicant to adapt their application and resubmit it with modifications to comply with the conditions.

“Following resubmission, City staff did not hear from the applicant. After two years of inactivity, the application was cancelled in November 2022,” reads an emailed statement from the city.

The city later clarified that it hasn’t necessarily cancelled the application, but “it is considered closed due to inactivity.”

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The city said it is important to note that PD Moore was not the applicant and therefore the city did not communicate with PD Moore directly about the project, and if the applicant would like to resume the project, “the City encourages them to contact the permitting department directly.”

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Moore said the applicant is the architect, Wilson Chang Architect, on behalf of PD Moore Homes Inc., which is standard process.

“I’ve had meetings with city council, people, all different levels of people at the city hall, in person, via email,” Moore told Global News.

In one Jan. 2021 email exchange, a city staffer who was resigning and who Global News is not naming, sent this response to Moore: “It is even more unfortunate that this project has been such a struggle because it would have provided much needed housing in the Downtown Eastside.”

“We spent years on this project with the city and we just weren’t able to get through the red tape,” Moore said.

“It’s quite frustrating because the reason we did this was because we wanted to give back.”

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Moore said he bought the property for $900,000 and has spent more than $400,000 on consulting fees and other expenses for different proposals to the city to make the project work.

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He said he has since submitted a new development permit application to build four market rental units under the area’s existing zoning, because the 60/40 zoning is unusable and won’t produce housing.

“If you can’t work with developers to build these buildings they’re never going to get built,” lamented Moore.

“This area’s always going to stay this way until the people that we have in place to create policies actually allow housing to be built.”

Vancouver mayor Ken Sim’s communications team did not respond to a Sept. 10 interview request from Global News asking whether he and his ABC-majority council will re-examine the 60/40 zoning requirements in the DTES Oppenheimer District.

Global News then contacted ABC Coun. Peter Meiszner, who agreed to do an interview, before his clearance to speak on the topic was rescinded by the mayor’s office.

In an email to Global News late Monday, the mayor’s director of communications, Harrison Fleming, wrote: “I think it is best to postpone this conversation a little bit as there should be a more meaningful update we can give you soon, and I don’t believe a conversation tomorrow will get you much new information.”

Moore said the city needs to cut red tape and take a second look at its policies.

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“The system that they have in place is archaic,” he said.

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