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Public input sought on Victoria’s vision to streamline subsidized housing process

Victoria could shift the way it handles certain affordable housing applications, but first, the public will have their say on the proposed streamlined process.

Councillors approved sending the new application process to a public hearing at Thursday’s (Jan. 13) committee of the whole meeting.

The changes would let housing projects to be owned and operated by non-profit, co-operative or government agencies secure the maximum allowable density for the development’s proposed site, as defined in the Official Community Plan.

To expedite the application timeline, it’s proposed the issuing of development permits would be delegated to the director of sustainable planning instead of needing a vote by council, as long as the city’s approved design guidelines are satisfied and the project is inspected by the advisory design panel. Staff said the new strategy could cut up to nine months off the application process.

The change would help increase housing supply as well as reduce the cost and risk for housing providers, by aiming to improve the financial viability of projects.

“This will support residents with the greatest need and who are most at risk in terms of housing affordability,” said Karen Hoese, the city’s director of sustainable planning and community development.

Getting projects built faster could also help reduce the impact of rising construction costs, staff said.

Mayor Lisa Helps noted how the cost of a subsidized housing project in Fernwood rose by millions over a short period. That comment referenced how the Capital Region Housing Corporation told council in November that the cost of its Caledonia redevelopment had risen to $64.4 million after a 2019 estimate of $58.3 million.

READ: Streamlined application process recommended to bolster Victoria’s affordable housing supply

Council passed an amendment requiring the definition of affordable housing to include at least a 60-year lease to a public housing provider.

Based on previous years, staff estimate about three applications would be delegated each year. They also noted that senior government funding sources often require projects to already have municipal approval as a condition of applying, so the new process would help providers access subsidies and deliver deeper affordability.

“As we get into a deeper housing crisis, cities that are willing to accelerate are going to see more investment,” Helps said.

“We’re empowering those mission-driven housing provider organizations to get their approvals faster so they can tap into these funding sources quicker, and that can translate into more units more quickly on the ground in our community to serve those in the greatest need,” added Ross Soward, a senior planner with the city.

The process would be monitored if it’s adopted, staff said, and council would be updated if any issues arise.

No date was immediately set for the public hearing. Visit victoria.ca for dates as they are scheduled.

READ: BC Housing presents vision for major redevelopment of downtown hotel property


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