The housing crisis in Greater Victoria will continue, but the anti-development signs planted in front of Oak Bay homes have been removed. At least for now.
Last week the Oak Bay United Church congregation voted to step back and will not move forward with its latest proposal for a rental housing development that would have put between 36 to 68 housing units within 250 metres of Oak Bay Village.
It ends a process that went public in 2017 but started even before that.
The church had decided on the 96-unit proposal it submitted to Oak Bay in 2018. It faced significant push back from a group of neighbours and was withdrawn before the necessary rezoning application ever made it to Oak Bay council.
|Anti-development signs have been removed from Granite Street.
(Black Press Media File Photo)
However, the church did not give up on the idea of affordable housing. Last year Oak Bay United reached out to the Property Resource Team of The Pacific Mountain Region, an arm of the United Church of Canada. The property resource team conducted a feasibility study regarding the possibility of a purpose-built rental housing project at the property and brought back three proposals, which range from 36 to 68 units. The study came back with three scenarios and none of them resembled the previous proposal either in the number of housing units or site layout.
Because the church’s goal was to operate rental units, including below-market-rate units, a high threshold was needed to keep the project in the green, said Reverend Keith Howard.
On Sunday the same congregation that voted to explore leveraging the parking lot as a solution to Victoria’s housing crisis four years ago, voted to put a temporary stop on any development.
“We are not closing the door on a future proposal,” Howard said. “The number of housing units that are involved in their proposal, to make it economically feasible, is more than 36 to 68 units. That number is a long way from what we had hoped.”
The original, 96-unit design included 55 to 57 units that would meet the government definition of affordable housing with 35 at market rent. The market units would support those who don’t meet standard government criteria but still need help with affordable housing. There would also have been and four to six larger units with up to three bedrooms aimed to support families.
“It became obvious the proposal was not going to go anywhere,” Howard said. “The proposals were pretty exhaustively vetted. We’re looking at how to be a more positive influence and platform in the community, seeking partnerships, and redevelop the facilities we currently have, and to better serve the community and congregation.”
BC Housing told the church they are still open to further discussion if the United Church decides to proceed.
Coming out of the ordeal, the church learned just how strong and proud the community feels about Threshold Housing, Howard said. The agency is a tenant, having moved in five years ago, and hosts youth in transition in the church’s heritage style house.
“All that we’ve said no to is this particular proposal for development, not closing the door on future development, but it has to be affordable housing,” Howard said. “As the world changes, we are trying to have increased engagement with the community. We’ve learned the importance of doing widespread and deep listening.
“The door is wide open to possibilities, not only to think out of the box, but that we may need a new box.”