Door could swing shut on affordable housing project

Greater Victoria Housing Society considers selling Townley Lodge site

This artist's rendering shows the proposed development of Townley Lodge by the Greater Victoria Housing Society.

An affordable housing complex serving Saanich for decades could go up for sale, according to the executive director of the society that operates it.

Selling Townley Lodge ranks among the “three most viable options” facing the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) after Saanich council unanimously postponed a public hearing for plans to redevelop the complex, said Kaye Melliship, the executive director of the non-profit society.

Council postponed the public hearing Oct. 24 after hearing concerns about the project’s proposed density.

GVHS is now considering the sale of Townley Lodge because postponement of the public hearing means the project will not be able to go ahead as planned under a funding deadline, said Melliship.

It requires the society to submit several documents by the middle of next year to secure $6.2 million in funds from the federal government administered by the provincial government.

The project will not be viable without this funding, and postponement of the public hearing denies the society sufficient time to secure it, said Melliship.

“As a non-profit society, we are left in a very confused state,” she said. “Our plans fit with the official planning documents in Saanich [and] every government is alive to the crisis in affordable housing and is willing to commit significant funds to address this issue.”

Unable to move forward though, the society is now reviewing its options, she said.

They include selling the complex, a possibility that threatens to diminish the stock of affordable housing available in Saanich.

“If we should decide to sell our Townley property, we would have no control over who buys it or what use they propose for the site,” Melliship said. “Therefore the community could lose the current 39 affordable units for seniors who live in the community, plus the potential for any additional affordable housing, such as we proposed.”

Saanich’s loss in turn might benefit other communities in the Greater Victoria area.

Melliship said the GVHS could use proceeds from any future sale of the Townley Lodge towards affordable housing projects elsewhere in the Greater Victoria area.

The GVHS’ board will meet later this month to consider its options.

The society could also continue to operate Townley as it currently does or submit a revised proposal that the neighbourhood (and by implication council) could support, Melliship said.

Council postponed the public hearing on the project after neighbourhood residents had raised concerns about the plans GVHS had submitted for Townley Lodge, a single-storey building almost half a century old that consists of 39 low-income rental units for seniors located south of Lansdowne middle school between Shelbourne and Richmond streets.

The GVHS – which owns both the building and 5,328-square-metre property on which it stands, along with other properties in the Victoria area – was planning to replace these old units with 67 affordable housing units for seniors, families and the disabled.

The project was spread across four housing types, including a four-storey apartment building. While opponents acknowledged the additional need for affordable housing, they successfully argued that the project as presented would have undermined the character of their single-residential neighbourhood, depressed property values and diminished quality of life by reducing available green space and sunlight.

GVHS representatives said at the time that their submitted design represented their best attempt to reconcile the mandate of the society to create affordable housing with financial viability, a point Melliship reiterated.

“We brought forward our best design and best combination of units,” she said, adding that the society went through great lengths to work with staff on the design.

While Melliship did not rule out the possibility that the society would bring forward a revised design, she also wondered out loud whether such a design even exists.

“We have to evaluate whether it’s even possible to get neighbourhood support,” she said.

The possibility that GVHS could sell Townley Lodge and the property on which it stands raises a number of questions with many revolving around the eventual fate of the residents who currently reside at the location.

The GVHS was planning to temporarily resettle residents during the redevelopment of Townley Lodge, and Melliship said GVHS has already started to rehouse Townley Lodge tenants at other facilities.

“We have over 500 units suitable for the seniors who live at Townley and have been making vacancies available to Townley residents,” she said. “We will continue to offer this option as we know it is hard for our tenants to live with uncertainty.”

If the property is sold with current tenants still residing at Townley Lodge, the new would-be owners would have to honour their tenancy agreements and work within the Residential Tenancy Act should they wish to make changes, she added.

 

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