154-unit, $42-million Fernwood affordable-housing project nears OK

A 154-unit affordable-housing project in Fernwood is moving closer to reality, as Greater Victoria’s rental vacancy rate sits at a tight one per cent.

The Capital Region Housing Corporation has asked construction management companies to submit qualifications for the $42-million project, to be built on an assembly of nine lots from Gladstone Avenue to Grant Street.

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It will feature two apartment buildings — one four-storey and another five-storey, each with a stepped-back design — plus three townhouse buildings that are three storeys high.

The lack of affordable rental housing is a longstanding problem in the region, with those living on modest incomes struggling to find homes amid a low vacancy rate and rising rents.

The Fernwood plan came together as a result of a collaboration by the Capital Region Housing Corporation, City of Victoria, School District 61 and B.C. Housing.

The Greater Victoria school board agreed to a land swap that permits excess land at Victoria High School to be leased for the housing project. Money going to the school district will be used to preserve the 1914 Vic High building.

The project is still subject to rezoning by the city. If all goes smoothly, construction would start in January 2021 and the project would be completed in early 2023, Christine Culham, senior manager of regional housing and the Capital Region Housing Corp., said Monday.

“I think this is going to be a really incredible revitalization of that area,” she said. “We are just really looking forward to being able to increase affordable housing.”

Among Victoria residents, 61 per cent are renters, with an average household income of about $44,000, she said. “This housing is really needed if we want to ensure that people that are living within the city of Victoria can continue to live within the city of Victoria.”

Of the units, 20 per cent will be “deep subsidy” housing for residents on government support, such as income assistance or disability pensions. Another 50 per cent will be “rent geared to income” subsidized, in which 30 per cent of income goes to rent, subject to a minimum rent. The final 30 per cent is referred to as low-to-moderate housing for incomes set at specific levels.

The project has been designed with community pathways and connections to Vic High, parks and a composting centre.

Amenities include a 1,450-square-foot building where programs are to be offered by the Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Centre, a private courtyard with a playground and space for a community garden, Culham said.

Of the nine properties in the land assembly, seven are vacant lots. One lot, at 1211 Gladstone Ave., has 18 units in townhouses.

Tenants — some of whom have moved already — have the option of moving into Housing Corporation units, and will have the right of first refusal in the new project, Culham said. The remaining property is home to a two-storey, four-unit house on North Park Street that has been empty for years.

Fernwood resident Dorothy Field said she would have preferred to see a greater proportion of the project dedicated to more affordable housing. She also argues that the development will be too tall, saying it “doesn’t fit at all” in the neighbourhood and could increase development pressure in the area toward Cook Street.

The Housing Corporation, already a major owner and manager of rental units in the capital region, has another 475 units underway in four upcoming projects.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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