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Supportive-housing in Yates Street rental towers could be nixed

Two rental residential towers planned for Yates Street probably won’t include two units of supportive housing for women that were promised eight years ago. The two units at 819 Yates St.
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Two rental residential towers planned for Yates Street probably won’t include two units of supportive housing for women that were promised eight years ago.

The two units at 819 Yates St. were part of a master development agreement when the property — currently a parking lot beside the now-closed Empire Theatre building — was rezoned for a condominium/commercial project in 2007.

Developer David Chard bought the property in 2011 and instead of condominiums, is now proposing to build 209 units guaranteed to remain rentals for at least 10 years above ground-level commercial units.

But, he said, building new purpose-built rental poses significant challenges, not the least of which is balancing low return on investment and considerable development risk.

In order to manage the economic risk, Chard said in a letter to council, a pre-sale of the completed building had to be negotiated prior to the start of construction. While a conditional agreement has been reached with a Canadian owner/operator, the buyer is insistent that the requirement for the two supportive units be removed.

“While we have attempted to alleviate concerns about these two units for the purchaser, they have been clear on this matter from the outset and they will not waiver on their position that this requirement must be removed from the zoning at the time of completing the transaction for the sale to move forward,” he said.

Coun. Pam Madoff said she’s disappointed by the situation. “I think what I found really disappointing is the notion that a lender would not finance a project if it contained two supportive housing units. I find that absolutely appalling.”

Council agreed to send to public hearing the proposal that the two affordable units be dropped and that $100,000 of a planned $200,000 public art feature be allocated to affordable housing.

Madoff said it shouldn’t be an either-or situation between public art and housing. “Once we start playing off one initiative against another, everybody loses and that’s what constantly happens with the arts and I’m not going to support that. It’s not necessary and it’s not one or the other,” she said.

Madoff had suggested that rather than reducing the public art component, the developer kick in another $50,000 for the affordable housing trust fund — an amount Coun. Jeremy Loveday later proposed be reduced to $20,000. But neither proposal got council support.

Coun. Marianne Alto said while she would love to see an additional contribution to the trust fund, the project “has had a difficult and challenging history.” “If the margins are so tight that a $50,000 change in the numbers means they may not proceed, I would rather have it proceed and take from it the best possible combination of additional contributions, than have it not proceed,” Alto said.

Coun. Margaret Lucas said the addition of 209 rental units with a 10-year covenant for rental is “far more powerful to our community” than $20,000.

Asking for additional housing trust funds in the face of an economic analysis that showed no economic benefit from the zoning change made no sense, said Mayor Lisa Helps. She noted that the new rental units could free up 209 units “lower on the rental-housing spectrum.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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