Comment: Affordable rentals are a major step in creating vitality

New, attractive and affordable rental housing is hard to come by in Victoria. Given the dramatic increases in housing prices, many new householders are choosing to rent rather than buy, and that has increased the demand for rental housing, and driven up rents, too.

The average apartment rent in Victoria is $1,170, up 7.5 per cent from one year earlier. The City of Victoria’s Housing Strategy has set a target of 3,100 additional rental units to meet demand, but purpose-built rental construction has been slow to respond, resulting in years of undersupply relative to demand, and a low vacancy rate. New market rental housing that has been created is rented at rates that are far beyond the reach of average working people in Victoria.

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The Victoria Cool Aid Society’s redevelopment proposal for its property at 210 Gorge Road East was approved by Victoria city council this week and it will help to address the rental- housing shortage in Victoria. It will offer rents affordable prices at a range of income levels. The redevelopment includes the creation of 51 new affordable and below-market-rent apartments for the neighbourhood.

The Burnside Gorge community has been asking for more affordable rental housing for families, for seniors on fixed incomes and for single and low-wage working people. Our 210 Gorge proposal delivers on all of these goals.

Cool Aid’s original proposal was submitted to the city in October 2018, but we heard many concerns from the community about the height and density of our original proposal, lack of a commercial amenity and questions about our management plan for the new building. We listened and worked with our funders and design team to revise the proposal. That revision reduced the height from six storeys to five and total number of homes from 82 to 72 units.

With this redevelopment, we’ll be able to retire the old motel that was on site with a beautiful new building and landscaping, plus add a coffee shop and new, much-needed, affordable rental apartments to the neighbourhood. It will add vibrancy to this well-travelled corridor that will have a positive impact on property values.

The new apartment building will have a balanced mix of tenants able to pay rents at a range of income levels. We have also maintained a unit mix with one-and-two bedroom suites that are a great fit for couples and families.

The mix of apartments will create an inclusive community where those who have faced social isolation will be neighbours with people who have more stable lifestyles, and, in so doing, will make for a stronger and safer neighbourhood. And, our professional support workers will support our tenants and their neighbours, 24/7.

We know that our immediate neighbours and other community leaders still have questions and concerns about how Cool Aid plans to manage and operate the building and address any issues that may arise. With that in mind, we have prepared an operating management plan that outlines our vision and commitments for operating this new, affordable rental housing in the Burnside Gorge community. That is available on our website at CoolAid.org/210plan.

With 210 Gorge, and a second project at 3020 Douglas, we have an opportunity to contribute to a rebirth of the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood. It will be a neighbourhood that attracts families and young people looking for affordable rental housing and access to childcare, a place where you want to know your neighbours and where we care about each other and our community’s wellbeing.

Cool Aid plans to be a part of the Burnside Gorge community for many years to come. Contributing positively to the community, developing long-term relationships and being a good neighbour is very important to us. We’re committed to doing the ongoing work with our neighbours to achieve these goals.

For more information or to provide feedback, neighbours can reach the Cool Aid team any time at neighbourfeedback@CoolAid.org or 250-383-1977.

Kathy Stinson is the CEO of Cool Aid, which has been serving the community for 51 years.

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