Saanich will look into replicating the City of Victoria’s process for expediting select affordable housing projects, while making sure any new policy would be catered to the district.
Council on Monday unanimously supported Coun. Susan Brice’s proposal for the community to examine the city’s direction.
Victoria’s first-of-its-kind policy allows affordable housing applications by non-profit, co-operative or government agencies to be approved by city staff, instead of council, and lets those projects secure the maximum allowable density for a development’s proposed site.
“There are obvious advantages for Saanich to pursue a policy with the same intent,” Brice’s proposal said. “Much work has been done on this file and there are advantages to Saanich and the not-for-profit sector for our staff to engage with Victoria staff with the goal of bringing back the necessary amendments.”
Staff will look into using the same eligibility requirements as Victoria. Those include projects needing to align with the official community plan and design guidelines, and having a long-term lease to a public housing provider to fit the affordable definition.
At Monday’s meeting, Brice noted the two communities have differences in their planning documents, so her proposal gives staff freedom to recommend what would work best for Saanich.
“I thought this was something that would dovetail well with our plans,” she told council.
Allowing the streamlined process for certain projects would align with several strategic goals, Brice said, pointing to reducing barriers to affordable housing, increasing the supply and variety of builds and creating incentives for below and non-market housing.
The process expects to cut nine months off the application timeline, according to Victoria staff. Those time savings are seen as crucial given soaring construction costs and inflation.
“Less time means less money – money that can go into more affordable housing or money that can go into more affordable rents,” Brice said.
Coun. Judy Brownoff, who seconded the proposal, said she would like any policy change to ensure a way for community members to comment on projects.
Coun. Nathalie Chambers said she hopes habitats of native species would be protected alongside the expansion of affordable housing.
After calling the streamlined approach a very exciting initiative, Mayor Fred Haynes said it would also give housing providers the project certainty they need to receive senior government funding.
Staff are expected to report back with what they called a road map on the policy in about three months.
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