Victoria Adopts Historic Process to Accelerate Affordable Housing Creation
Erin Nicole Davis
The City of Victoria just made a historic move on the affordable housing front — one that cities like Vancouver and Toronto should perhaps 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 co-op housing organizations will no longer require rezonings or public hearings when they are consistent with the City’s Official Community Plan and related design guidelines. This will act to accelerate the creation of this much-needed housing; the change is expected to cut about nine months off current timelines for a typical project, and even more for others, says the City.
“The change we made will get more affordable homes built more quickly for families, workers, and people who need it the most,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in a press release. “Council is taking a bold step to remove the uncertainly around affordable housing decisions and cut red tape. It’s the first of hopefully many 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 the necessary criteria will be permitted to build up to the maximum density in the City’s Official Community Plan. Projects led by non-market affordable housing providers and government partners, such as BC Housing and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, would qualify for the accelerated process. Co-op housing projects could also qualify under the new changes.
Victoria is the first municipality in B.C. to approve a city-wide accelerated process for qualifying affordable housing projects. Furthermore, the city says it’s just the first of several major policy moves identified in the City’s Housing Strategy to “close the supply gap” and make affordable homes more accessible and attainable for people living in the city.
“Cities taking steps to speed up approvals for new public and affordable housing makes 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 scope of our housing investments, having a partner at the municipal level who facilitates quick approvals helps get doors open sooner for people living in the streets and parks, and also for people who simply need a more affordable place closer to work. A special thank you and recognition are due to Victoria’s Mayor and City Council for taking this important and meaningful step to accelerate approvals of affordable housing.”
The time saved in accelerating the approvals of these projects correlates directly to dollars saved, says the city. It highlights how, according to Statistics Canada’s building price index, construction cost inflation currently runs at more than 1% per month. The change will shave an estimated $2M off of a typical affordable housing project — a saving that can be used to build more affordable housing, says the city.
The City of Victoria highlights how the new rules will strengthen partnership relations with federal and provincial governments in the delivery of affordable housing. Now, non-profit housing providers will have more certainty to secure senior government funding that allows for the delivery of affordable homes without the risk of a project being turned down at a public hearing.
“There are three key factors that put affordable housing projects at risk once they enter the municipal approvals process: time, cost and uncertainty of approval,” said Jill Atkey CEO, BC Non-Profit Housing Association. “Victoria City Council removed all three of those barriers and now shines as an example to other municipalities serious about affordable housing in their communities.”
As it turns out, other BC municipalities are listening. On Friday, the District of Saanich Councillor Susan Brice tweeted that she had filed a notice of motion in advance of the council’s April 25 meeting that she hopes will allow Saanich to follow Victoria’s lead in streamlining the approval process for certain affordable housing projects. In response, Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes tweeted his thanks and said he looked forward to discussing the motion.
While the move is currently unique to Victoria, other governments — notably, the Ontario government — have recently acted to reduce red tape on the creation of new homes (in general, that is). The Province’s newly adopted More Homes for Everyone plan features a new tool specifically designed to accelerate planning processes for municipalities — including cities like Toronto, where it’s needed most. The Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator will help municipalities expedite approvals for housing and community infrastructure, like hospitals and community centres, with clear requirements for both consultation and public notice.
Still, it’s not exactly 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 made notable moves as of late when it comes to increasing affordable housing in a timely manner, for example, with things like Housing Now and the Modular Housing Initiative. But anything surrounding the creation of affordable housing is typically a gruelling approval process within the walls of City Hall.
So, any additional measure to ramp up the construction of affordable housing is certainly a welcome one for the countless residents who live below the poverty line in notoriously pricey cities like Toronto and Vancouver.
Erin Nicole Davis
Erin Nicole Davis is a born and raised Toronto writer with a passion for the city and its urban affairs and culture.