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Victoria passes affordable housing reforms to fast-track projects

Victoria passes affordable housing reforms to fast-track projects
CITY OF VICTORIA — The City of Victoria has passed new legislation intended to boost affordable housing development.

VICTORIA — Victoria has passed new laws to fast-track affordable housing projects.

Victoria council recently passed new legislation that exempt projects by non-profit, government or co-op housing organizations from rezonings or public hearings when they are consistent with the city’s official community plan and related design guidelines.

“The change we made tonight 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 statement. “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.”

Victoria is the first municipality in B.C. to accept a city-wide accelerated process for qualifying affordable housing projects. Developments that meet all the necessary criteria will be permitted to build up to the maximum density in the city’s official community plan. Officials said it’s the first of several major policy moves identified in the city’s housing strategy to close the supply gap and make homes more affordable.

“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.”

Officials explained all approvals will now be delegated to staff, including development permits and variances. They anticipate the change will trim roughly nine months off current timelines for a typical project, and even more for others.

According to the city, residential construction cost inflation is running at more than one per cent a month, meaning the time savings could cut an estimated $2 million off a typical affordable housing project.

“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 of the 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.”

Officials noted 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. Affordable housing projects would have the affordability of rental units secured through a legal agreement with the city.

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