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Victoria council streamlines approval process for affordable housing

“It was very heartwarming to see the community come together on this bold policy approach,” Victoria mayor says.
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A residential neighbourhood in Victoria. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The City of Victoria has become the first local ­government in B.C. to approve an ­accelerated process for qualifying ­affordable housing projects after councillors unanimously passed new legislation ­following a public hearing.

Under the legislation, ­projects by non-profit, government or co-op housing organizations will no longer require rezonings or public hearings when ­consistent with the city’s official community plan and related design guidelines.

“It’s a historic moment for the city,” Mayor Lisa Helps said after Thursday’s vote. “The change we made tonight will get more affordable homes built more quickly for families, workers and people who need them the most.”

Helps said she “choked up” several times as she heard­ ­submissions by residents who spoke in support of the legislation.

“It was very heartwarming to see the community come together on this bold policy approach,” Helps said.

“It’s the first of, ­hopefully, many tectonic shifts in how ­Victoria is improving the ­housing-development process.”

B.C. Attorney General David Eby, who is also the housing ­minister, applauded the move.

“Cities taking steps to speed up approvals for new public and affordable housing makes it­ ­easier, cheaper and faster for the province and the federal government to respond to the housing crisis by building the homes that are desperately needed,” Eby said.

“Because of the scope of our housing investments, having a partner at the municipal level who facilitates quick approvals helps get doors open sooner for people living in the streets and parks, and also for people who simply need a more affordable place closer to work.

“A special thank-you and recognition are due to ­Victoria’s mayor and city council for ­taking this important and ­meaningful step to accelerate approvals of affordable ­housing.”

With approvals being delegated to staff — ­including development permits and ­variances — the change is expected to cut about nine months off timelines for a typical project. With residential construction cost inflation running at more than one per cent a month, the new legislation could shave an estimated $2 million off a typical affordable-housing project.

“There are three key factors that put affordable-housing projects at risk once they enter the municipal approvals process: time, cost and uncertainty of approval,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.

“Victoria city council removed all three of those ­barriers and now shines as an example to other municipalities serious about affordable housing in their communities.”

Of about 27,000 renter ­households in Victoria, nearly half spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. B.C. Housing has a waitlist of more than 1,100 individuals and ­families in need of affordable housing in the region.

Helps said the legislation was the first of three major policy moves to close the ­supply gap and make homes more ­affordable, accessible and ­attainable for residents.

The next step involves ­pre-zoning swaths of ­neighbourhoods for rental housing. The plan involves designating transportation ­corridors — such as along Bay Street between Fernwood Street and the Jubilee Hospital — for ­rentals “We are going to say to ­builders: ‘Please build rentals here because we need it.’ ”

The third move involves what Helps called the “missing middle housing,” where people will be encouraged to build fourplexes and sixplexes. The idea is to make it affordable for young families to live in the community where they work.

“Taken together, these three initiatives make Victoria ready for the future,” Helps said.

“My hope is that the public embraces rental pre-zoning and the missing middle housing ­components as much as ­affordable housing because we need housing for everyone.”

parrais@timescolonist.com

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