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Construction begins on Esquimalt affordable-housing project

Some rents will be based on income, could be as low as $375 for a studio, $700 for a three-bedroom

Construction of an affordable-housing complex for seniors, families and singles is underway in Esquimalt, with hard-to-find three- and four-bedroom apartments among the 137 units slated for the six-storey building.

The complex will be built on the site of the Esquimalt Lions Lodge, which was constructed in 1973 and provided 77 affordable housing units to seniors with limited incomes.

Run by the Greater Victoria Housing Society for over 40 years, the four-storey lodge on Fleming Street — near the intersection of Craigflower Road and Lampson Street — is in the process of being demolished to make way for the project, set to open in 2024.

At a Wednesday event marking the start of construction of the project, Virginia Holden, executive director of the Greater Victoria Housing Society, said low- to moderate-income households in the capital region are in desperate need of affordable and suitable rental homes, as many options in the private rental market have “drastically declined” over the last decade.

Holden said some of the units will be be rented at “very, very low” rates for people on fixed incomes, such as income assistance — $375 for a studio and $700 for a three-bedroom.

Other tenants will pay rents geared to their income, for example $700 for a studio apartment, she said.

“Simply put, these types of rent do not exist anywhere but in an ongoing subsidized building at a time when households on fixed incomes or very low incomes struggle to make ends meet in this inflationary environment.”

According to Zumper, an online rental resource, the average monthly rent for a studio apartment in Victoria is $1,746, rising to $1,925 for a one-bedroom.

Ahmed Hussen, federal minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, said the complex will ensure families can “raise their kids in a community that they know and love, and they’ll give people living with disabilities a home that is not just affordable but also actually meets their needs.”

Seven fully accessible units for wheelchairs will be available, he said.

The cost will be close to $22 million, with $14.5 million coming from B.C.’s Community Housing Fund — along with $470,000 for annual operating costs — and $6.4 million from the federal government. Additional support includes $370,000 in funding and loans loans from Vancity.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said council approved rezoning the site in 2020, and neighbours gave their full support for the project, which she called “a great investment in affordable housing in Esquimalt.”

The setting is ideal, since it’s close to schools, a park, community gardens, the Gorge Waterway and local businesses, Desjardins said. “This is really a neighbourhood.”

jbell@timescolonist.com