There is a really good, informative, and for the most part respectful community conversation taking place on Facebook. People are voicing their opinions and sharing information with regard to the City’s proposal to reduce its contribution to ending homelessness from $600,000 to $500,000 per year for the next three years. What’s thrilling to me is that this discourse among citizens is generating new ideas. Or at least it has generated one new idea for me.

I’ve spoken with the City’s Assistant Director of Finance and the City’s Director of Planning and Development and I’ve got some new information. And then I have an idea I’d like to share. It’s an alternate proposal for continuing to build the City’s Housing Trust Fund at the same time as honouring the unanimous budget decision that Council made in April. I will endeavour to draft this idea into a policy for Council’s consideration.

First, here’s some information about the Housing Trust Fund: Between 2006 and 2012, Council granted a total of $2,854,727 from the Fund to build affordable housing. Council has committed a further $1,830,000 to projects now underway. After the committed funds are spent, there will be $529,000 left in the Fund. The City’s Housing Trust Fund has been built by the City’s regular yearly contributions of $250,000. In addition, the City’s Assistant Director of Finance told me today that developers have also contributed about $1 million to the City’s Housing Trust Fund through the Density Bonus program, as directed by Council on a development-by-development basis.

So I called the City’s Director of Planning and Development to find out more about how this Density Bonus program works. When developers want to build more densely (more people living per square foot) on a site than the zoning allows for, they are subject to what is called the City’s Density Bonus program. Developers must provide something to the City in exchange for the increased density.

In 2010, as part of the City’s Downtown Core Area Plan, Council adopted a policy, where 75% of density bonus monies from development downtown would go to a fund to improve public realm elements downtown (parks and green spaces for example) and 25% would go to a fund to seismically upgrade heritage buildings. This means that when developers build inside the Downtown Core Area, their density bonus monies are used in the downtown.

This is where it gets good! There is no policy for the density bonus monies that the City gets from developers who build outside the Downtown Core Area. And, importantly, the final decision about how to spend all monies that come to the City as a Density Bonus from developers always rests with Council.

So how about this: Council adopts a policy where all monies generated from the City’s Density Bonus system outside the downtown go to the City of Victoria’s Housing Trust Fund. That way – in addition to its own annual contribution – the City is creating a sustainable long-term revenue source to fund affordable housing. At the same time, we are listening very clearly to a majority of residents surveyed in the Victoria Foundation’s Vital Signs report, who for two years in a row now have listed ‘cost of living’ above homelessness as the key issue facing the region.

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