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Federal money adds a storey and 14 units to downtown Victoria rental project

The project, which will maintain the historic facades of a pair of Fort Street buildings, received a $41 million low-interest federal loan

Nearly $90 million in federal funding has helped create 271 rental homes on Vancouver Island — and add a new storey to a project coming out of the ground in downtown Victoria.

The money, from the Rental Construction Financing Initiative, helped build the 94-unit Mission Road project in Courtenay last year and the 72-unit Peatt Commons on Hockley Avenue in Langford in 2020.

Those projects were approved for low-interest loans for $26.85 million and $20 million respectively.

But the recently approved $41 million low-interest loan for Salient Properties’ 825 Fort St. project will mean an additional storey and 14 more rental units for the project, which is currently under construction.

The funding commitment allowed proponent Robert Fung, president of the Salient Group, to petition Victoria council last month to add another floor to the project.

Fung told council the project was approved for the Rental Construction Financing Initiative money after it had been granted its rezoning approval and development permit. But he noted with that kind of low-interest loan, he could provide more affordable housing.

“Our commitments for 825 Fort achieve the deepest level of affordability available under the program, for the greatest percentage of suites, for the longest term,” he said in a submission to council. “This represents an opportunity for council to add 14 rental homes in downtown Victoria in a project that is underway in a location that permits the requested height, and in a project where financing agreements with CMHC legally obligate the project in its energy use and [greenhouse gas] emission reductions.”

Council unanimously agreed it was worth adding a storey to get the units.

The result is that the project will now be 11 storeys and 119 units rather than a 10-storey building with 105-units.

Fung has used the low-interest loan program before, notably on the same block of Fort Street, where he built a 60-unit, micro-loft project known as the Sawyer Block, which retained the historic façade of 840 Fort St.

The $15.5-million project was fuelled by a $13.25-million loan from the Rental Construction Financing initiative — a program offered by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to provide low-cost financing for rental projects with an eye to developers being able to provide housing at affordable rents.

Fung’s 825 Fort St. project – it includes 819-827 Fort St. — will maintain the historic facades of a pair of Fort Street buildings while bringing a range of rental housing and 5,000 square feet of commercial space to the neighbourhood.

The federal government introduced the loan program to help build more rentals across the country, as the supply has not kept pace with the country’s growth.

“We need to boost housing supply — this is why we are making strategic investments, through programs like the Rental Construction Financing Initiative, to build much-needed rental units across the country,” said Sean Fraser, federal minister of housing.

aduffy@timescolonist.com