Sunday, October 28, 2018

Victoria should buy land for affordable housing: councillor

Victoria should start buying property for non-market housing, says Coun. Ben Isitt.

Isitt said he will introduce a motion early in November calling on the city to establish a system of buying properties for social housing, with provincial and federal investment.

“Acquiring land, obviously, has a cost, but the land value is often a fraction of the capital costs of constructing new housing,” he said.

Isitt said if the city takes a leadership role and acquires land subject to the provincial and federal governments providing financing or grants for capital costs, the impact on municipal taxpayers would be minimal.

Issues surrounding affordability dominated the election campaign and will be near the top of the agenda as the new councillors get down to work next month.

Mayor Lisa Helps said she supports pulling whatever levers are available to get more affordable housing built — including buying lots.

“The message we got on the campaign trail was: ‘Make Victoria more affordable and do everything that you can,’ ” Helps said.

“[Housing Minister Selina Robinson] has said clearly to me by text, phone calls, all mechanisms possible: ‘Buy land and we have money for housing.’ So I think it’s a good position for all municipalities to be in.”

Helps also echoed Our Place executive director Don Evans, who during the campaign urged local mayors to provide land for modular housing, and if they didn’t have any, to buy it.

“If municipalities buy land for housing, the land is only going to go up in value — it’s not going to go down. So I think it’s a good investment,” Helps said.

Councillors will have to be bold in addressing housing issues over the next four years, the mayor said.

“Tinkering is not going to get us anywhere.”

Prior to the last election, a proposed housing policy that would have required between 10 and 15 per cent of units in new Victoria condo projects to be built as affordable rental units was sent back to staff for more work.

Isitt called the proposal as originally presented “watered down, ” saying it largely mirrored the status quo.

Together Victoria councillor-elect Laurel Collins said the city can do better.

“Right now, the way we’re doing it, we are not getting as much from developers as Langford or Saanich. I would really like to see our community benefiting from the development boom that is occurring in Victoria,” she said.

The city hopes to have a revised policy back before council by March 31.

Together Victoria’s housing policy states that the current practice of developers building primarily high-income housing and hoping it will eventually become affordable as it ages and deteriorates is not working.

Together Victoria called instead for at least half of all new housing built to be affordable.

Collins said that doesn’t mean developers would have to ensure half the units in their projects are built as affordable.

“That 50 per cent is not in each individual development. We’ve been talking about having half of all new development across our region over the next four years be affordable,” Collins said.

Helps said the city cannot rely entirely on developers to create affordable housing.

“There’s a lot of room for homeowners to do more with their own properties,” she said. That could include larger garden suites on large lots, mobile tiny homes that could be wheeled into yards, and greater flexibility in allowing both secondary suites and garden suites.

Helps also wants the city to create a small-scale-housing ambassador, a position similar to the city’s business ambassador, as a go-to person for small-scale housing initiatives.

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