Church's affordable-housing project falls through amid 'skyrocketing' building costs, delays

The bishop of the Anglican Diocese of B.C. says the cancellation of a 24-unit affordable-housing project on the property of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Esquimalt is a “case study” in why the province’s commitment to build affordable housing isn’t deliverable.

The Esquimalt housing complex would have been built above a new ministry centre at the Esquimalt Road site.

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“What we’ve discovered with this kind of project is that even when a church donated the land and offered to put a million dollars into the project, we still can’t build 24 units of affordable housing at the rate that B.C. Housing considers affordable,” said Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee.

That rate is about $175,0000 a unit, she said.

“So we are above that, and there is no way to be in line with the kind of safety codes, etc. that are required for this type of housing to come in at [that] price point.”

Greenwood-Lee said it’s a disappointing outcome, because there is a huge need for affordable housing. She noted that four years ago, the B.C. government committed to building 29,100 units of affordable housing, but it has only delivered on 3,246.

“The church was stepping up and trying to [fill] that need,” she said. “It’s very clear that it’s not going to happen.”

The diocese had hoped to leverage the $1-million value of the church property to built a new ministry centre, while at the same time creating much-needed affordable housing.

“This was to be a win-win situation for everyone,” Greenwood-Lee said in a letter to parishioners. “But with skyrocketing building costs and excessive delays, the project could no longer be considered affordable and therefore is not feasible.”

In a statement, B.C. Housing said that when the project was initially proposed, the Anglican Diocese set a budget of approximately $9 million, and B.C. Housing committed $2.5 million — approximately $100,000 for each unit, its standard base subsidy for non-profit housing projects.

“After a further review of this project, it became apparent this project would cost more than $9 million and the funding required to keep the rent levels affordable is far above what we are able to contribute,” the statement said.

It said the province is investing $7 billion over 10 years to increase affordable housing in B.C. Since 2018, more than 26,000 homes have been completed or are underway in close to 90 communities, the statement said, adding the province recently announced an additional 9,000 homes for middle-income families over the next three years.

Church incumbent Gail Rodger said that not proceeding with the project is “heartbreaking news” for the parish, whose members have been looking ahead to a new parish hall since 2010.

She said the centre was to be a community hub — “our offering to the neighbourhood” — for people from all walks of life.

The church’s ongoing contributions to the community include its involvement in the Rainbow Kitchen, which provides close to 100,000 hot lunches each year, along with other programs offering support during the COVID-19 pandemic

Greenwood-Lee said the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the parish that it is “more than our buildings” and that it has a future in Esquimalt.

“We just have to admit we don’t know exactly what that will look like at street level,” her letter said.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said the municipality and the church worked hard together on what was going to be a “wonderful” project that has unfortunately not come to pass.

“For whatever reason, this one dragged on and on,” she said. “They’re looking at what can the next steps be.”

Desjardins said the church is an important part of Esquimalt history.

It dates back to 1866, when it was built at the foot of Signal Hill, near the gates of the dockyard. It was dismantled and moved to its current location in 1904.

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