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Affordable housing prescribed for Fairfield bout of ‘affluenza’

Fairfield has a a severe case of “affluenza” that will be remedied only with an injection of affordable rental housing, says Coun. Ben Isitt.
Cook and Pendergast development
Artists' rendering of a proposed development at Cook and Pendergast streets in Victoria's Cook Street Village.

Fairfield has a a severe case of “affluenza” that will be remedied only with an injection of affordable rental housing, says Coun. Ben Isitt.

Isitt made the comment as councillors considered Aragon Properties’ proposal to build a 48-unit condo building in Cook Street Village.

Aragon is proposing to knock down three houses and a commercial building at Cook and Pendergrast streets to build a four-storey strata condominium with ground-floor commercial.

But rather than forwarding the proposal to public hearing, councillors instructed staff to work with the applicant and/or B.C. Housing to try to secure 10 to 20 per cent of the project’s units for non-market, rental housing in perpetuity.

Mayor Lisa Helps originally proposed staff negotiate with B.C. Housing to buy 10 per cent of the strata units for affordable housing and that was subsequently amended to between 10 and 20 per cent.

Victoria is still consulting with industry representatives on a proposed inclusive housing and density bonus policy. In November, councillors backed off a proposal to require all new condo projects to include between 10 and 15 per cent affordable units.

Isitt argued that rather than just seeking a percentage of affordable units, council should tell the developer it wants to consider only purpose-built affordable rental on the site.

“My personal view is an affordable rental housing project would be a much better use of this land than an expensive strata housing project.”

Isitt noted that the Aragon proposal calls for significant densification in a neighbourhood that’s afflicted with “a distinct case of affluenza.”

“I think a healthy remedy to that condition would be a property that was entirely purpose built de-commodified housing. I think that would be an amazing addition to the neighbourhood, to have a non-market building,” Isitt said.

But Helps said telling Aragon to come back with an all-rental proposal at this point would not be good governance.

“On Nov. 8, we said going forward we were going to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with applicants to try to get affordability in all new strata projects. That’s our going-forward policy. This application has been in the works for two years.”

Meanwhile, affordability also dominated discussion of a separate proposal that councillors did agree to send to public hearing.

In that proposal, Fairfield United Church plans to demolish its old church at Fairfield Road and Moss Street to build Unity Commons, a four-storey building of purpose-built market rental over ground-floor space for interfaith worship, cultural and arts activities, and a small commercial cafe.

Isitt suggested the proposal be referred back to inject affordability into it and to increase setbacks of the building so it didn’t appear as “aggressive.” But he didn’t get majority support.

Helps said that after about two years of community input and discussion, it is time to move the project forward.

“How hard can it be to build 15 units of rental housing in this city? It can’t be this hard. This proposal has been going on forever,” she said.

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