Victoria council adds $750,000 to affordable housing reserve fund

Victoria councillors have allocated more than $1 million for affordable-housing initiatives for the coming year, including a $750,000 increase to the city’s affordable housing reserve fund.

“Working people are being pushed out of this city and we’re doing everything we can to change that,” Mayor Lisa Helps said.

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“It’s a priority for just about everybody. It’s a priority for the Chamber of Commerce. It’s a priority for Tourism Victoria. It’s a priority for VIATEC,” she said.

Boosting this year’s allocation to the reserve fund to $1 million from $250,000 will allow the city to subsidize about 80 per cent of the estimated 115 rooms of very low and low-to-moderate income housing units that are said to be needed to meet housing targets.

City staff expect the remaining 20 per cent of the affordable-housing targets to be met through the Victoria’s inclusionary housing and density-bonus policy, now in development.

“They’ve got about $8 million worth of known housing applications coming and I think our trust fund right now has $2.1 million, so that’s clearly not enough,” Helps said.

“So [the staff] recommendation is that on an annual basis, we put $1 million into the fund rather than the $250,000 we’ve been putting year over year,” Helps said.

Money from the fund is available to non-profit housing providers at the rate of $10,000 per bedroom to encourage and assist in the development of buildings with lower rents.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday proposed the increase. This year, it will come from surplus funds.

“We’re in an acute housing crisis, and we’ve heard from our staff that there are applications coming down the pipe that will be needing this funding to be viable,” Loveday said.

“That means this funding is needed to deliver affordable units for people to live in the city of Victoria,” he said.

Loveday originally proposed that the increase be funded through new assessed revenue, generally used for ongoing expenditures.

He said the funding could always be pulled back in the future if there is no longer a need.

“If the housing crisis evaporates and everyone is adequately housed, or this funding is no longer either available or necessary, we can always change the budget in future years.”

Coun. Ben Isitt said funding the increase from this year’s surplus would be more appropriate, given that affordable housing is more properly the responsibility of senior governments.

Helps agreed that taking the $750,000 out of surplus funds is more appropriate, calling it “a cautious approach.”

She said the city is in a housing crisis that doesn’t show signs of letting up.

“It’s going to take real concerted effort here, for the next four years and probably beyond, to make sure that the city is an affordable place for people to live.”

Councillors have directed that an affordable housing section be added to the development services and community-planning sections in the planning department.

Councillors also agreed to add two full-time-equivalent staff positions to the planning department for housing initiatives.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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