Call it socially responsible entrepreneurship — a chance for builders to make a return while providing affordable housing for people such as fixed-income seniors or single parents.
The 56-year-old Greater Victoria Housing Society believes the best way for it to serve a social need like low-cost rental housing is to work with builders and developers in partnerships.
“So we are developing, but we are developing with a social purpose,” said Kaye Melliship, executive director of the Greater Victoria Housing Society.
On Wednesday, the society is showcasing its social successes with a gala dinner called Building Storeys, at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel’s David Foster Foundation Theatre. Each table will be named after one of the society’s 15 buildings, and guest will hear stories of each of the society’s properties.
And from June 2 to 9, Uplands Golf Course will be the stage for the Times Colonist/Island Savings Open, a Canadian PGA tour event. All ticket proceeds will go the Greater Victoria Housing Society.
Both events are also ways for the society to get the word out to people who might be interested in becoming partners in more social developments.
For example, John Knappett, president of Knappett Projects Inc., said his company has completed two projects with the housing society: the combined, commercial/residential buildings, the 24-apartment Pembroke Mews, at 2018 Government St., and Loreen Place, at 21 Gorge Rd. E., with about 60 units.
Knappett is now working on a third at 35 Gorge Rd. E., expected to be completed by October 2014. It will feature five townhomes, to be sold at market rate to finance an apartment building with 68 rental units.
Knappett said the arrangement between a building firm like his and the Greater Victoria Housing Society is one where both parties help reduce risk for the other.
Knappett, the builder, gets a secure client in the society with its good record, and secure funding.
The Greater Victoria Housing Society gets an experienced builder, familiar with the paths and pitfalls to be navigated when putting up a building.
“It’s low risk, relatively low return,” Knappett said. “But that’s the business we are in; we are builders, not high-flying developers.”
By working with partners like Knappett, the Greater Victoria Housing Society manages 14 buildings with 739 apartments, providing homes for more than 1,000 people. Rents vary from one-third of a tenant’s income, to full market for those who can afford it.
But the society estimates Victoria will need 360 to 480 more rental apartment homes to be built every year for the next 25 years to meet the 9,000 to 12,000 units forecast to be required.
Meanwhile, next year the society will complete 68 units, and last year completed only 77. It’s unknown how rental units have been provided from other sources.
“We really do need to be building new rental housing,” said Ian Batey, volunteer board chairman for the Greater Victoria Housing Society.
“There’s lots of room for other people to be addressing the need,” Batey said.
For more information and tickets to Wednesday night’s Building Storeys dinner gala, go to buildingstoreys.ca.