Victoria council eyes expedited process for affordable housing development

Victoria city council is considering options to expedite the development process for affordable housing projects by as much as four to nine months.

At next week’s committee of the whole meeting, councillors will discuss regulatory changes to speed up the process and eliminate the need for rezoning applications for projects that meet certain criteria.

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Mayor Lisa Helps said the “bold” changes would depoliticize the housing process and substantially increase the number of affordable units that can be opened quickly. “Basically, it will mean, if all goes well, an explosion of affordable housing for low-income people, including low-income workers and low-income families in our city,” she said.

Last June council asked its staff to look at ways to advance a rapid supply of affordable and supportive housing. A staff report with recommendations on regulatory changes notes that nearly a quarter of households in the city lack access to affordable or suitable housing.

The report recommends delegating the authority to issue development permits for affordable and supportive housing projects to city staff and eliminating the requirement for a rezoning application when increasing density up to a maximum outlined in the community plan. Projects would need to be consistent with design guidelines.

The changes would eliminate the need for council approval and a public hearing, which could reduce the timeline by four to nine months, the report says. The timeline for projects under the current process varies. A rezoning application can take up to 11 months, and a development permit with a variance up to seven months, the report says. Developers say the process can take years if projects go to council more than once.

Staff note the number of projects that would benefit from the changes is relatively low. In 2019, the city received five applications associated with affordable housing and three in 2020. As more funding becomes available the number of applications is expected to increase. Eligible projects must be operated by a registered non-profit housing society or government agency.

Non-profit housing providers have identified uncertainty during the city’s development process when rezoning is required as the greatest challenge to building affordable housing, because it increases time, cost and risk to applications. Providers have also noted that the need for rezoning can affect the ability to receive funding because senior government programs often require approved zoning to be eligible, leading groups to take on significant risk and cost to rezone without secured funding, the report says.

Kathy Stinson, CEO of Victoria Cool Aid Society, said there is a dearth of affordable housing in the city and anything that can speed up the process to open more is welcome. “A huge part of the challenge right now is how long it takes from concept to people moving into a new home,” she said. “So anything that can shorten that will actually decrease cost and get people into homes quicker. So both of those are good things.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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