Saanich is granting an affordable housing project a financial break, but not as much as the applicant requested.
Council granted the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) $128,000 from its affordable housing fund towards the re-development of Townley Lodge currently underway near the border between Victoria and Saanich.
Plans call for 64 affordable housing units for seniors, families, and the disabled across four housing types, including a four-storey apartment, on the current side of Townley Lodge. GVHS has run the affordable housing complex since 1967.
The society had initially asked for $217,000 to help offset costs on the $20.5 million project, now under construction near the main campus of Camosun College — a figure that would have amounted to 70 per cent of Saanich’s affordable housing fund.
“I appreciate that we don’t want to decimate the fund, but also provide a level of equity,” said Coun. Karen Harper, in supporting the move, which received unanimous approval from council.
But councillors could not agree on granting GVHS a break of just under $63,000 on the project’s development cost charges.
Coun. Judy Brownoff questioned the ad-hoc nature of the request. “We need a policy and I don’t like the idea of waving fees, because it means that we have to make the money elsewhere,” she said.
Mayor Richard Atwell agreed with the need for a policy review. Saanich, he said, needs to look beyond the immediate figures before council to develop a consistent policy in the light of pending developments. He also suggested that the requested break would make little difference against the backdrop of rising constructions and delays that the project had experienced.
When first proposed, the project had a price tag of $18 million. But neighbourhood concerns forced GVHS to submit a revised version that eventually gained council’s approval.
Coun. Fred Haynes agreed with the general need for a policy, but questioned council’s commitment to dealing with affordable housing.
“We have the ability to put more money in a worthwhile project that can help deliver affordable housing,” he said.
Granting the development a break on its development cost charges would offer assistance now and preserve the affordable housing fund, he said, adding that it still leaves Saanich with the ability to develop policy.
Instead of granting the request, council voted 5-4 to send the question to staff, after the public heard that Saanich’s policy on granting support to affordable housing through its affordable housing fund “was not an exact science” after Coun. Colin Plant pointed out that Saanich had granted different projects different levels of support.
“In regards to staff’s approach, it has been an evolving process,” said Sharon Hvozdanski, director of planning. “But over the last couple of applications, you will see reference to the $1,500 to $2,000 [per door average]. In some cases, council has decided to exceed that suggested cap.”
Kaye Mellishp, GVHS’ executive director, said the organization appreciates Saanich’s contribution.
“As part of our budget for the project, we always identified a potential contribution from Saanich,” she said. “It is important to our senior government funders to see some participation by the municipality.”
She does not expect additional requests to Saanich, adding that the society welcomes private donations.
“The more equity we can put into the project, the lower the mortgage, the lower the rents for our tenants,” she said.
Construction of the affordable housing complex is well underway following lengthy delays and the society is aiming for occupancy in April 2020, Melliship said.