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Affordable housing needs mandated policy: Victoria, Esquimalt councillors

New policy would require developers to ensure 10-15% of units are affordable rentals

The lack of affordable housing across the Capital Regional District is a big issue, but unless policies are enacted to implement stronger guidelines for developers to provide below market units, it won’t get any better, say two municipal councillors.

In 2017, Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday brought forward a motion to council to ensure every development that requires a rezoning includes a certain number of affordable units.

“For me, this is a top priority,” says Loveday, who is running for re-election this fall. “Housing is the biggest issue facing our city. I hear from residents all the time that’s what they want the city to focus on.”

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The concept isn’t new – throughout his term on council Loveday has advocated for such a policy, working closely with housing policy experts from senior levels of government as well as colleagues on council.

The current policy, adopted in 2016, and gives developers the option to provide affordable units or contribute to an amenity fund. Loveday prefers to see housing units created and the proposed policy focuses on that. “In my opinion, it should be triggered by what’s already there, and not what’s possible.”

Victoria city councillor Jeremy Loveday. Twitter

The draft policy, to be presented to council Sept. 6, suggests a target of 10 to 15 per cent of total units in a given development be secured for affordable rental housing. The City estimates 124 units of “below market rental” housing are required each year to meet targets set by its housing strategy.

But the policy has been stalled, because of what Loveday calls “different priorities for action” on council.

“We’re behind most municipalities across the province,” he points out. A staff report indicates Richmond, Vancouver and North Vancouver already employ inclusionary housing policies.

RELATED: Housing strategy to eliminate homelessness in Victoria

In Esquimalt, Coun. Olga Liberchuk, who will not run for re-election, says council understands it has a housing crisis on its hands.

She will bring forward a motion Sept. 17 that would enact a similar policy to ensure all new developments in Esquimalt offer below market accommodation, a goal she’s attempted to achieve throughout her term.

“Now is a good time to re-introduce it, because we’re seeing the neighbourhood around Constance and Admirals really eyed by developers,” she explains.

Esquimalt councillor Olga Liberchuk. Twitter

Corvette Landing, a 12-storey development poised to demolish existing dwellings in the 600-block of Constance Avenue, has been transparent about its target market – those with an income of $75,000 a year per household.

That brings market levels down from other proposals, Liberchuk says, but it’s not enough.

“It’s really going to change that neighbourhood,” she says. “With those changes, those people are basically getting displaced at this point. It’s really hard to see it happening in front of our eyes.”

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Karen Shirley is one of those people. The Constance Avenue resident presented council with a petition Aug. 20 asking for a “halt to development in the Township until council enacts a policy to protect low income renters in Esquimalt.”

The document, signed by 99 people, was on the same agenda where council considered four rezoning applications and a development permit for the Township of just under 20,000 people.

Developers have descended upon the neighbourhood, purchasing properties for demolition and replacing them with more expensive housing, Shirley wrote to council.

“Our neighbourhood is being gentrified,” she added.

Liberchuk fears Esquimalt is at risk of losing its neighbourhoods, forgetting about people on low and moderate incomes in the community. “For true affordable housing, there have not been any proposals recently that have come forward.”

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The intent of the Victoria policy is to harness the private market to serve the public, says Jonathan Tinney, director of sustainable planning and community development for the City of Victoria.

It will only apply to proposals where there is a request for rezoning – Victoria currently has 13 in the pre-application phase.

“This policy won’t solve the problem, it’s one tool in the toolbox,” Tinney says.

Ultimately, Loveday says the policy is about making the development that is already happening better for residents, because mixed-income developments are healthier and build community.

Currently, some developments in Victoria have included affordable units on a voluntary basis, having predicted the passing of a policy like this. Still, Loveday hears from people who are struggling to find housing daily, from low- to middle-income earners.

“Families are being driven out of the city,” he says. “To be successful [Victoria] needs to be somewhere where families can thrive.”

A “Housing For All” rally is planned for 6 p.m. at Victoria City Hall on Sept. 6 before the council meeting.


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