Victoria mulls push for 30% affordable units in new strata projects

Victoria councillors next month will consider requiring 30 per cent of units in all new strata developments be affordable to lower-income people. It’s a number that far exceeds the 10 per cent affordable in large projects recommended by staff and one that even the city’s own consultant said would see development in the city grind to a halt.

But Coun. Ben Isitt is arguing the changes are needed to foster a shift to construction of affordable rental housing instead of expensive strata and to reinforce that city council’s goal is affordability, not developer profits.

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“Our power of zoning is one of the greatest powers that council, any municipal council, has. The reality is that for decades the council has not used that power to maximize affordability and inclusivity,” Isitt said.

“I think it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that the impacts or the effects of rezoning decisions have been to maximize profits for landowners and developers and that’s had a negative consequence in terms of affordability and inclusivity.”

For months, a group comprising developers, rental housing advocates, non-profit housing providers and resident association members have been working with city staff in creating housing policy.

Mayor Lisa Helps urged council to consider the group’s recommendations, noting council had received correspondence both from developer groups and from housing advocates, and both sides were critical of the proposed policy.

“It must be the right policy if the people on the two far sides of the spectrum both disagree with it,” she said.

Among the proposals was a requirement that in new strata projects in the urban core, town centres or urban villages of more than 60 units, 10 per cent be built as affordable units. Cash in lieu could be provided for projects of 59 units or fewer.

Purpose-built rental, affordable rental and heritage conversions would be exempt.

But when the policy proposals were presented to council Thursday, Isitt called them “watered down” and sought amendments.

Isitt suggested that for projects seeking density beyond the existing zoning, the amount of affordable housing would be determined through negotiation with the applicants.

The guidelines for those negotiations would be that 30 per cent of units in all new strata projects be affordable, 10 per cent of units in purpose-built rental buildings be at a level affordable to very low- to moderate-income households, cash in lieu may be considered for projects with fewer than 10 units or where the applicant can demonstrate a hardship, provision for affordable ownership rather than affordable rental would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Isitt’s proposals were referred to staff for comment and will be discussed again by councillors next month.

Helps said negotiating on a case-by-case basis would not provide the certainty the market needs and that it would be wrong to demand affordability in purpose-built rental.

“We need more rental housing of all sorts. We need more affordable rental housing. We need more market rental housing and we’re starting to see just now, we’re starting to see more rental housing being built,” she said.

Consultant Blair Erb, vice-president of Coriolis Consulting, said the 30 per cent requirement would make many projects unaffordable for developers. “Ten per cent was where we landed in terms of what was a good guideline. If it went as much as 30 per cent, I can tell you there won’t be any rezonings in the absence of government funding to offset the cost of delivering the units, which would mean zero units [of affordable housing would be built] and zero CACs [community amenity contributions],” Erb said.

“I would love for the city to be aggressively developing affordable rental housing and for the city to be the main developer in the city for the next three or four years to house poor people,” Isitt said.

“That’s really the pressing policy priority in this community but I don’t see the will at this table,” he said, noting that in the last 51Ú2 months the city has not bought a single parcel of land for affordable rental.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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