Victoria council mandates 20% affordable rentals in residential projects despite warnings

Council pushes ahead with plan despite pleas from developers and advice from experts who say the policy will not work

Times Colonist
June 29, 2019

Photo - Victoria city hall clock.
Victoria City Hall

Large new residential complexes in Victoria will have to make 20 per cent of their units affordable rentals, despite pleas from developers and advice from experts who say the policy will not work.

“I do feel strongly that a one-size-fits-all approach that pushes developers to polarize their developments offering 80 per cent high-end condos and 20 per cent affordable rental homes simply will not result in a healthy, balanced market,” David Chard of Chard Development told councillors.

In fact, the city’s new housing policy will more likely result in less affordable housing being built, said Chard, whose projects include Yello on Yates, Escher on Broughton, Corazon at 732 Cormorant St. and The 834 on Johnson Street.

“A requirement of 20 per cent affordable housing will not push developers to build more rental. It will simply send a loud and clear message to developers that they are not welcome in the city and it will push them to other municipalities,” Chard said.

A city-commissioned analysis by Vancouver-based Coriolis Consulting agreed, noting a policy requiring 10 per cent of units be affordable rental was all the Victoria market would bear. Anything more would make projects not viable for developers and discourage them from applying to rezone properties, the analysis said.

But having just received a petition with more than 400 names calling for 50 per cent affordability in all new projects, the majority of councillors stuck with the 20 per cent requirement.

Coun. Ben Isitt, supported by Coun. Sharmarke Dubow, even proposed increasing the affordable rental requirement to 30 per cent but didn’t win majority support.

“I strongly want to shift projects from strata to purpose-built rental until we have the housing crisis under control. I realize that may have the effect of ‘killing some projects.’ That’s an impact I’m prepared to see in order to have low-income people housed,” Isitt said.

“Purpose-built strata projects are not housing poor people and I think that needs to be the focus.”

Under the new “inclusionary” housing policy, projects with more than 60 units will be subject to the 20 per cent affordable-rental requirement.

The policy will allow projects with between 10 and 20 per cent affordable units if the applicant can demonstrate such units will make the project not financially viable, is primarily comprised of two- or three-bedroom units, an economic analysis demonstrates a different level of non-market rental or homeownership is supportable or there is energy efficiency greater than that mandated in B.C.’s “step code” standards.

Smaller projects will be able to make cash-in-lieu contributions that will be allocated 70 per cent to affordable housing and 30 per cent for local amenities.

The policy also allows projects proposed with height and densities above the official community plan to be considered if they result in community benefits such as affordable housing, energy efficiency above the step code, accessible housing, two- and three-bedroom units, daycare facilities or enhanced green space.

Councillors Jeremy Loveday, Sarah Potts and Laurel Collins argued that council has built enough flexibility into the policy to make the 20 per cent threshold reasonable.

“I do want to have bold ambitious targets when it comes to the percentage of affordable housing that we’re putting in, and I think that 20 per cent is a good compromise, especially given the flexibility of the amendments that came forward,” Collins said.

“I do think this is a reasonable way forward. I think it balances the need for bold action on housing affordability within the development of new buildings, specifically new strata buildings while also providing tools for developers to make sure that projects are still viable,” Loveday said.

But Mayor Lisa Helps urged council to stay with 10 per cent, noting that the city’s consultant had already demonstrated 20 per cent is not financially viable.

“We’ve seen an analysis that shows that projects that go above 10 per cent are not financially viable,” Helps said.

“So my suggestion to council is we start with that reality and do that for a year because we already know anything that goes above 10 per cent isn’t financially viable.”

Under city guidelines, “affordable” monthly housing-cost targets, including utilities, are $850 for a studio unit, $1,050 for a one-bedroom, $1,300 for a two-bedroom and $1,750 for a three-bedroom.

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