Erin Nicole Davis
The City of Victoria just made a historic decision on the affordable housing front – one that cities like Vancouver and Toronto might want to consider.
Victoria will now allow some affordable housing projects to skip rezoning or public hearings after City Council unanimously passed a motion last week.
Projects by non-profit, government, or cooperative housing organizations will no longer require rezoning or public hearings when consistent with the City’s Official Community Plan and related design guidelines. This will act to accelerate the creation of these much-needed homes; the change is expected to shave about nine months off current lead times for a typical project, and even more for others, the city says.
“The change we’ve made will get affordable homes built faster for families, workers and people who need them most,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said in a statement. Press release. “Council is taking a bold step to remove uncertainty from affordable housing decisions and reduce red tape. This is the first of many hopefully tectonic shifts in how Victoria is improving the housing development process.
All City approvals will now be delegated to staff, including development permits and variances. Developments that meet all of the necessary criteria will be permitted to build up to the maximum density set out in the City’s Official Community Plan. Projects led by out-of-market affordable housing providers and government partners, such as BC Housing and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, would qualify for the fast track process. Co-op housing projects may also be eligible for the new amendments.
Victoria is the first municipality in British Columbia to approve an expedited, citywide process to qualify affordable housing projects. Additionally, the city says this is just the first of several major policy measures identified in the city’s housing strategy to “close the supply gap” and make affordable housing more accessible and accessible to people. people living in the city.
“Cities that take action to speed up approvals for new public and affordable housing make 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” said David Eby, Attorney General. and minister responsible for housing.
“Because of the scale of our housing investments, having a partner at the municipal level that facilitates rapid approvals helps open doors earlier for people living on the streets and in parks, as well as people who have just need more affordable housing closer to work. Special thanks and appreciation are due to the Mayor and City Council of Victoria for taking this important and meaningful step to expedite affordable housing approvals.
The time saved by speeding up approvals for these projects directly correlates to the dollars saved, the city says. He points out how, according to Statistics Canada’s building price index, construction cost inflation is currently running at over 1% per month. The change will cut about $2 million from a typical affordable housing project — savings that can be used to build more affordable housing, according to the city.
The City of Victoria highlights how the new rules will strengthen partnership relationships with the federal and provincial governments in providing affordable housing. Now, non-profit housing providers will have more certainty to secure senior government funding that enables the delivery of affordable housing without risking a project being turned down in a public hearing.
“Three key factors put affordable housing projects at risk once they enter the municipal approvals process: time, cost and uncertainty of approval,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of BC Nonprofit Housing Association. “Victoria City Council has removed these three barriers and now shines as an example for other municipalities serious about affordable housing in their communities.
It turns out that other municipalities in British Columbia are listening. On Friday, Saanich District Councilor Susan Brice tweeted that she had tabled a notice of motion ahead of the April 25 council meeting that she hopes will allow Saanich to follow Victoria’s lead in streamlining the approval process for some affordable housing projects. In response, Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes tweeted his thanks and said he looked forward to discussing the motion.
Although the move is currently unique to Victoria, other governments – notably the Government of Ontario – have recently acted to reduce the red tape associated with creating new homes (generally, that is) . The province’s recently adopted More Housing for All plan includes a new tool specifically designed to speed up planning processes for municipalities, including cities like Toronto, that need it most. The Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator will help municipalities accelerate approvals for housing and community infrastructure, such as hospitals and community centers, with clear consultation and public notification requirements.
Still, it’s not quite the same as Victoria’s historic move when it comes to quickly housing the city’s most vulnerable.
To be fair, the City of Toronto has taken some notable steps lately when it comes to increasing the supply of affordable housing in a timely manner, for example, with things like Housing Now and the modular housing initiative. But everything around creating affordable housing is usually a grueling approval process within the walls of city hall.
So any additional measures to speed up the construction of affordable housing are certainly welcome for the countless residents who live below the poverty line in notoriously expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver.
Erin Nicole Davis
Erin Nicole Davis is a Toronto born and raised writer with a passion for the city, its urban affairs and its culture.
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