Ottawa kicks in $13.25M for downtown Victoria rental complex

The federal government is making the most of its national housing strategy ahead of this fall’s election, missing few opportunities to highlight the effects of the $55 billion pledged for affordable housing initiatives across the country.

For the second time in as many weeks, a Liberal MP lauded the strategy during an address in Victoria. Two weeks ago, Jean-Yves Duclos, federal Minister of Families Children and Social Development, was in the city announcing a $75-million investment in 1,500 additional affordable housing units in B.C.

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On Tuesday, Adam Vaughn, Duclos’ parliamentary secretary, was standing on the 800-block of Fort Street to point out the strategy has kicked in funding to help keep affordable rental housing at a new development at 840 Fort St.

Vaughn said the project is being fuelled by a $13.25-million loan from the federal Rental Construction Financing initiative — a program offered by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to provide low-cost financing for rental projects.

Vaughn said it allowed the developers to offer the purpose-built rental at below-market rent. The units will be rented out at 30 per cent below the median household income in the area. The developer estimates that the units will rent from $995 to $1,450 per month when the project is completed this winter.

“Affordable rental housing is virtually impossible to deliver just with government programs around construction alone,” Vaughn said. He said developers pay for labour, land and materials at market rate. “As a result of that, delivering rental housing below-market is extraordinarily difficult.”

The federal government expects the federal financing initiative will encourage the construction of 42,500 rental units across the country through the course of the 10-year, $55-billion national housing strategy.

The CRD’s housing-needs assessment has noted that by 2038 Greater Victoria will need 34,000 rental units in the region.

The project at 840 Fort St. aims to help in at least one segment of the rental market.

Robert Fung, chief executive of the Salient Group, which is building the $15.5-million Sawyer Block project, said the micro-suites are geared toward workers in the tech and service sectors.

Of the 60 units, 44 are micro-lofts and the other 16 are one-bedroom units.

They range in size from 285 square feet to 358 square feet. Rent is estimated to be around $995 to $1450 per month.

Fung said the project might have gone forward without federal funding, but it would not have ended up being as affordable nor would it have managed to be as energy efficient on such a tight budget.

He also said the funding enabled the project to take root in a neighbourhood “where people want it, where over the last number of years there has been tremendous economic growth.”

The Sawyer Block project neighbours 838 Fort, home to a number of tech start-ups, and across the street from the revitalized corner of Fort and Blanshard streets.

Fort Street Properties invested heavily in its buildings there, drew in new tenants and established common areas to add new life to the block.

“Our contribution will be a building that brings people into the neighbourhood,” said Fung, who is also behind a proposed 101-unit development on the same block.

That 101-unit project goes before council this fall.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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