Renderings of Cool Aid’s Crosstown Building at Douglas and Burnside. Affordable housing buildings like this one can now get under construction more quickly with new legislation the City of Victoria adopted Thursday evening.

At a public hearing on Thursday evening, speaking in favour of Victoria’s proposal to allow affordable housing and co-ops to be built more quickly, Irene from Vic West said when she thinks about the character of her neighbourhood, its the people in her neighbourhood thinks of. Irene wasn’t alone. She and others talked about the need for diversity in their neighbourhoods – for artists, young families, immigrants and refugees, for a range of people to be able to call all of Victoria’s neighbourhoods home.

Everyone who took the time to come to City Hall in person, call in, or record a video spoke in favour of the bold policy move proposed by City staff. Non-profit housing providers shared that this change in legislation will enable them to move projects forward more quickly, with more certainty, and that this certainty will help attract federal and provincial funding.

I’m so proud of Council for unanimously adopting the expedited affordable housing legislation to accelerate construction of new affordable housing in the city. Projects by non-profit, government or co-op housing organizations will no longer require rezonings or public hearings when they are consistent with the City’s Official Community Plan and related design guidelines.

This will get more affordable homes built more quickly for families, workers and people who need it the most. It’s the first of three big moves that I hope Council will make, to improve the housing development process and make homes more affordable, more accessible and more attainable for people living in the city. The next two big moves are, one, prezoning land for rental housing, and two, creating Missing Middle Zoning to make it as easy to build houseplexes and townhouses as it currently is to build a single family home.

With the change we made on Thursday evening, Victoria is the first municipality in B.C. to approve a city-wide accelerated process for qualifying affordable housing projects. Projects that meet all the necessary criteria will be permitted to build up to the maximum density in the City’s Official Community Plan.

We may not be alone for long. Saanich Councillor Susan Brice has given a notice of motion to Saanich Council for April 25th. What this means is that Saanich will consider Brice’s proposal to adopt the same approach in Saanich as we have in Victoria, opening up large swaths of land in the regions two largest cities for faster affordable housing development.

This quick uptake by our neighbour is inspiring. And I think it’s the exact kind of move that the Province is hoping to see from local governments – learn from each other and work together to get more housing built more quickly. Minister Eby, Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing provided some generous comments in support of Victoria’s decision:

“Cities taking steps to speed up approvals for new public and affordable housing makes it easier, cheaper and faster for the province and the federal government to respond to the housing crisis by building the homes that are desperately needed. Because of the scope of our housing investments, having a partner at the municipal level who facilitates quick approvals helps get doors open sooner for people living in the streets and parks, and also for people who simply need a more affordable place closer to work. A special thank you and recognition are due to Victoria’s Mayor and City Council for taking this important and meaningful step to accelerate approvals of affordable housing.”

Now all City approvals for affordable housing will be delegated to staff, including development permits and variances. This change is expected to cut about nine months off current timelines for a typical project, and even more for others. This time savings will result in a significant cost savings for affordable housing developers and co-ops, and the governments that fund them.

Let’s take for example a typical non-profit housing development with a construction cost of $20 to $25 million dollars. With residential construction cost inflation running at more than one per cent a month, according to Statistics Canada’s building price index, this would save approximately $2 million off a typical affordable housing project. This savings can provide deeper affordability in new buildings, or be invested in future affordable housing projects.

Jill Atkey the CEO, of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, also took the time to call into the public hearing from Vancouver. In a follow up statement she noted that, “There are three key factors that put affordable housing projects at risk once they enter the municipal approvals process: time, cost and uncertainty of approval. Victoria City Council removed all three of those barriers and now shines as an example to other municipalities serious about affordable housing in their communities.”

Nearly half of Victoria’s 27,000 renter households are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. Recent reports from BC Housing indicate a wait list of more than 1,100 individuals and families in Victoria in need of affordable housing. The Capital Regional Housing Corporation has had a wait list of over 2,500 for many years now.

Clearly we have a lot of work to do. My hope is that Victoria’s policy innovation will spur an unprecedented building boom in non-profit and co-op housing. We’ve created certainty which will leverage investment from provincial and federal partners. In addition Victoria can use city-owned land to partner with non-profits and co-ops. And we can purchase additional land for affordable housing and create additional partnerships. All of these actions taken together will help to create a much needed post-COVID housing boom in Victoria for now and for generations of Victorians to come.

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