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Housing money reinstated by Victoria council

Coun. Lisa Helps says properties  like this one-storey row house for sale on Fernwood Road at Vining Street, if the lot was rezoned for higher density, could generate funds toward affordable housing through her proposed density bonus program. - Roszan Holmen/News staff
Coun. Lisa Helps says properties like this one-storey row house for sale on Fernwood Road at Vining Street, if the lot was rezoned for higher density, could generate funds toward affordable housing through her proposed density bonus program.
— image credit: Roszan Holmen/News staff

In response to outcry from service providers, Victoria city council has reversed an earlier decision to cut funding for affordable housing.

“It was a wonderful decision,” said Kathy Stinson, executive director of the Victoria Cool Aid Society. “We’re quite pleased that all the commitment to housing and (reducing) homelessness remains.”

On Nov. 1, council voted to reduce its annual contribution from $500,000 to $400,000.

The news prompted a strong reaction from those in the industry.

“Studies across B.C. have shown that supportive housing is the most cost-effective way to alleviate homelessness,” wrote Stinson in an open letter to council as chair of the Downtown Service Providers committee. “How will reducing the budget that contributes to the building of such housing in Victoria save money?”

Victoria also gets a big bang for its buck, she argued.

For every dollar the city contributes to housing, higher levels of government and other groups pitch in $14, she said.

Council listened. Despite its ongoing efforts to cut the budget, it voted to reinstate the funds.

There was another option however.

Coun. Lisa Helps proposed creating a new bonus density program that could fund the housing trust.

It allows developers the possibility of obtaining extra density, pending council approval, in exchange for a financial contribution toward a specified city fund.

“It’s a creative way to not take money out of the city’s budget, but to ensure the long-term availability of funds to build affordable housing,” she said.

The city already has a bonus density program in the downtown core.

Helps proposed a similar program for areas outside the downtown core.

The city’s new Official Community Plan already calls for more density in the city’s neighbourhood villages, she said.

“If we want to capitalize on that density …  it should be used for affordable housing if that is such a priority for this council.”

Specifically, she proposed that 75 per cent of the money accrued from the bonus-density program be directed to the city’s housing trust fund.

It’s an idea that concerned Coun. Geoff Young.

“There is a temptation to create the density to get the bonus and I don’t agree with that,” he said. “Generally, the density should go where it is appropriate and where it fits. The issue of revenue shouldn’t be a major factor in our consideration.”

Also, he argued any financial contributions by developers should be given back to the neighbourhood where the development is built, such as for mid-block walkways or public art.

Council defeated Helps’ motion – but the idea isn’t dead.

It was sent to the planning and land-use committee for more review.

Council decides to keep more housing money local

A related decision Thursday marked a commitment by council to keep more housing funds in its own backyard.

Council voted to backtrack on a previous decision to shift a large portion of its housing contributions from Victoria’s trust fund to the Capital Regional District’s trust fund, as a way of encouraging developments elsewhere in the region.

Cool Aid’s Stinson is pleased the city’s own trust fund has been returned as council’s priority.

“It really makes a huge difference,” she said, explaining that agencies building subsidized housing in Victoria can access grants from two funding bodies, rather than one.

While the CRD will grant up to $15,000 per unit, the city will also chip in $10,000 per unit for a total of $25,000.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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