Victoria council approves two affordable rental buildings

Victoria city council has given unanimous approval to two major affordable rental-housing developments — one in Vic West and the other on Blanshard Street — that are expected to be under construction in early spring.

Together, Wilson Walk at 105 Wilson St. — a very large hole for the past six years — and the Azzurro, at 1950 Blanshard St., will help tackle the high cost of housing identified by the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce and the Vital Signs overview as impeding the city’s overall health, said Mayor Dean Fortin. The Conference Board of Canada gave Victoria a D in housing for its lack of affordability.

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Run by non-profit housing societies, the Azzurro will have no parking spaces for its 65 units. Wilson’s Walk will have no two- bedroom apartments among its 108 units — only studios and one- and three-bedroom units — because that’s what market research indicated was the best fit.

Underground parking spaces add about $50,000 to the cost of each unit. But residents who live downtown can do without a car, and in many cases, cannot afford one, Fortin said. There are about half the usual number of parking spaces at Wilson’s Walk, another major cost saving in construction.

At the Azzurro, monthly rent for the one-bedroom units will range from $725 to $950. They will have the same layouts and size as units in the high-end Hudson next door, said developer Alanna Holroyd, executive director of the Greater Victoria Rental Development Society. Its distinctive blue will be on the exterior, with some of the panels glowing at night with the help of LED lights, she added.

Across from the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, the Azzurro will contain five studio apartments, two accessible units and 58 one-bedroom suites.

Wilson’s Walk will comprise nine storeys of residential units topped with another storey of mechanical and elevator components. It will contain 54 bachelor studios, 36 one-bedroom suites and 18 three-bedroom suites to meet the demands of young singles and couples and families with children. The upper two floors will rent for about 90 per cent of market rate and the bachelors are expected to rent at about $650 per month, said Andy Orr, the development consultant for Pacifica Housing.

The cost of Wilson’s Walk will be about $20 million, with $4 million covered by federal and provincial contributions in land and cash equity grants, including a Capital Regional District contribution of $1.26 million and City of Victoria contribution of $840,000, Orr said.

Pacifica is a non-profit that focuses on affordable housing for families, people with disabilities and adults who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The city’s $840,000 will cover $10,000 each for the low-income units. There will be seven floors of low-income rentals and two floors of below-market rates.

Fortin said he expects Wilson’s Walk to “really add to the vibrancy of Vic West,” which is already “a pretty cool neighbourhood.”

The $17-million Azzurro will have two floors of commercial office space for lease and sale — with parking — that will underwrite the construction costs.

The Greater Victoria Rental Development Society’s mandate is to build quality, non-subsidized new apartment units for lower- to middle-income people who might then be able to save enough for down payments for their own homes someday, Holroyd said. Conditional commitments of $545,000 and $495,000 from the city and region respectively might be increased, she said.

The capital region still needs 350 supportive units of housing for people requiring supervision and 1,500 more affordable units, Fortin said.

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