The Vancouver real estate tycoons who donated $400,000 to the BC Liberals on one day in February 2016 got a sweetheart deal to build a Downtown Eastside social housing tower, according to the NDP’s housing critic.
In Question Period on March 9, David Eby quoted from a leaked August 2015 Provincial Rental Housing Corporation [PRHC] report that recommended a $35,928,300 development agreement with Wall Financial Corp. to build an 11-storey project on East Hastings and Gore on the edge of Chinatown. The report budgeted $3,316,000 for “consultants” and recommended the division of taxpayer-owned B.C. Housing also pay Wall Financial $6,391,350 for the land.
“It’s no wonder that the Wall Corp. and its principals donated $400,000 to the B.C. Liberals in 2016,” Eby said in Question Period. “They had an extra $3.3 million [developer’s fee] in B.C. Housing money to spend. This is money that was supposed to be spent to house the poorest of the poor, and it was given to a B.C. Liberal donor to do something they had to do anyway, under the zoning bylaws.”
Rich Coleman, the Housing Minister and Deputy Premier, appeared surprised at Eby’s question.
“It would be unusual for us to do what the member described, but it is not unusual for us to enter into an agreement to take affordable rental units that we can subsidize in the marketplace for people that need housing in Vancouver or anywhere else in the province of British Columbia,” responded Coleman, who also co-chairs the party’s 2017 election campaign.
According to public documents, Wall Financial founder Peter Wall and president Bruno Wall and two of their relatives showered the BC Liberal Party with six-figure donations, the week before the land sale was registered.
The party’s unaudited report for last year shows Feb. 26, 2016 donations from two Peter Wall companies, 2300 Kingsway Residences ($200,000) and PWO Investments ($100,000), his nephew Bruno Wall’s BJW Investment ($100,000), plus John Redekop Construction ($200,000) and Peter Redekop ($100,000).
In January, theBreaker reported that the donations were actually connected to a Feb. 23, 2016-held, Patrick Kinsella-coordinated private fundraising dinner at the Wall Centre Hotel in Vancouver. Coleman and Premier Christy Clark were special guests. More than $1 million was raised for the party’s 2017 re-election campaign.
Unlike other provinces, British Columbia has no limit on the size or source of political donations. The Liberals reported raising more than $12.4 million last year.
A search by theBreaker of the Land Title and Survey Authority of B.C. database showed a March 1, 2016 application to transfer ownership of the site from Wall-owned 292 East Hastings Holdings Ltd. to PRHC. The declared value was $6,699,984 — $1.9 million higher than the 2015 assessment.
Vancouver city hall’s development permit board approved rezoning at the end of January 2016 for the property, now known as 288 East Hastings. Last June, city council approved a $1.04 million subsidy for 104 social housing units. The other 68 will be secured market rental units. Construction of the $39.5 million project began last August. No signs for Wall, PRHC or B.C. Housing were visible outside the site on March 10.
“B.C. Housing has estimated that the cost associated with the social housing component is ~$19.2 million,” read the civic report. “B.C. Housing is responsible for the design, construction and financing of the project, including any take-out financing.”
Eby told theBreaker in an interview that he was unhappy with many aspects of the deal, including glaring omissions from documents released under freedom of information by Shayne Ramsay, who is the CEO of both B.C. Housing and PRHC.
“I don’t like that when I ask for a list of B.C. Housing-financed projects that this one was left off the list,” Eby said. “I don’t like that the Walls were obligated to build this housing under the zoning and yet B.C. Housing appears to have picked-up the carrying costs of that property and all the construction charges for the Walls, and I don’t like that the Walls seem to be getting some sort of administration fee from B.C. Housing all for doing something they would have had to do under the zoning any way.”
The PRHC report mentioned that Atira Women’s Resource Centre was the preferred agency to operate the social housing. Atira’s CEO Janice Abbott is the wife of Ramsay. Ramsay did not respond for comment.
Bruno Wall also did not respond.
ITC Construction Group, which donated $60,000 to the Liberals on Feb. 26, 2016, is the builder. Rent for the 104 social housing units would range from $375 to $912 per month.
In its annual report for the year-ended Jan. 31, 2016, Toronto Stock Exchange-listed Wall reported a $23.7 million profit on $133.2 million revenue, with $900.3 million in assets. Elections BC’s database shows Peter and Bruno Wall gave $474,795 to the Liberals between 2005 and 2015.