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Victoria developer donates $15 million in land for social housing

‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ donation will help develop 180 affordable homes by 2027

Developers behind plans for a large mixed-used community on the Roundhouse lands in Greater Victoria, B.C., have donated a $15-million site in Vic West to the Greater Victoria Housing Society, which plans to build an 18-storey tower with 180 rental units of affordable housing.

The land on the southeast corner of Esquimalt Road and Catherine Street is part of ­Bayview Place’s master plan for eight other residential towers ranging from 18 to 28 storeys and the commercial Roundhouse development on the 10 remaining acres of the former E&N Railway lands.

James Munro, director of real estate for the Greater Victoria Housing Society, said the donation by Bayview Place owners Ken and Patricia Mariash is the largest the group has ever seen and could be a record for the Island and even the province for an affordable-housing project.

“It’s very significant and it’s a perfect spot for families and individuals on a bus stop, transportation corridors into downtown, across from a major park and close to two other properties the society operates,” said Munro.

Previously, Bayview had been trying to blend affordable housing with its other planned towers on the site. The idea of donating the corner lot arose after discussions with mayor and council and community groups, Ken Mariash said.

“Many of the city hall applications are an argument about how much and this and that,” he said. “We didn’t want to be trying to negotiate less than what should happen, so we thought we’d make it large.”

Munro said the society hopes to get the project before Victoria council before the Oct. 15 civic elections and to a public ­hearing before the end of the year. That way, detailed designs of the building can get underway, with a plan to start construction in 2024, with occupancy by 2027.

Munro said quick approvals from council are essential to the viability of the 18-storey tower, pointing to rising construction costs and interest rates.

“If the project is not approved soon, the project may not be able to proceed and these 180 new affordable homes will not be developed in the near term,” the housing society said in a statement.

The estimated capital cost for the development is $72 million, with construction costs estimated at $52 million.

The housing mix is expected to include studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units and possibly six to 12 three-bedroom townhomes for families. An outdoor play and seating area will be included and there are plans for 80 parking stalls and 180 spaces for bicycles.

Munro said the development will attract a range of incomes from “working professionals to working poor” or those making $30,000 to $120,000 a year.

All of the units will have below-market rental rates and 30% of those will be at 80 per cent of the median market rate set by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. — from $775 a month for a studio and $895 for one-bedrooms to $1,500 for three-bedrooms (in 2027 dollars), said Munro.

The remaining 70 per cent of the units will rent in the $1,300 to $2,950 range, also in 2027 dollars.

The Greater Victoria Housing Society currently has 17 buildings in the region, housing about 1,000 people, and the latest project is much needed.

“Land is the No. 1 constraint to develop new affordable housing,” said Virginia Holden, executive director of the Greater Victoria Housing Society. “This once-in-a-lifetime land donation will provide a significant project that will build a strong community in Vic West.”