Victoria eyes cash option for affordable housing projects

Victoria councillors inched opened the policy door Thursday to the idea of allowing cash contributions in lieu of affordable units in new condo projects.

But they also made it clear their preference is for the proposed bonus density inclusionary housing policy to have affordable units included as part of all new condo projects in the city.

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“I personally don’t know if cash in lieu or inclusionary housing or some combination is better and I don’t actually have a preference,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.

“What I do know is that we’re in an affordable housing crisis and we need the most number of units that are the most deeply affordable the most quickly.”

The proposed policy would require all new condo projects to include 10 to 15 per cent affordable units.

City staff fine-tuning the policy came back for direction to see if councillors wanted them to explore cash-in-lieu contributions as an option.

The idea of a cash option came from an initial meeting of a city-appointed working group comprising housing advocates, non-profit providers, community associations, developers and strata housing advocates.

Some of its members believe the city likely could realize more units of affordable housing by accepting cash in lieu from developers building multi-unit projects as the cash contributions could be used to leverage federal and provincial funding to build more units.

The Urban Development Institute even suggests that a policy that mandates affordable units in each new project could have the perverse effect of driving up prices.

After considerable debate councillors this week directed staff to prepare “an inclusionary housing policy for the end of March 2019 including any recommended amendments to the draft policy that will result in the creation of the most truly affordable housing units, the most quickly.”

Coun. Ben Isitt, who recommended the motion, said it reinforces council’s prior direction that it wants a policy that mandates affordable rental units be included as part of new condo projects while at the same time providing staff leeway to propose amendments that would aid in creation of the most affordable units.

“We have to realize policies that will result in potentially a lower rate of return are not going to be welcomed or endorsed by certain vested interests. That’s just the reality and regulators have to deal with those vested interests,” Isitt said.

Isitt noted that there are a number of vested interests on the working group and while he welcomes their input, the council direction will signal that staff are the ones developing the policy and that might mean there won’t be consensus.

Council is committed to having a new policy for consideration by March 31.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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