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Victoria considers $1 million-plus grant for Fernwood housing project

More project details needed before council decides whether to exceed maximum grant amount
Before it makes a decision on tapping into the city’s housing reserve fund, Victoria council wants to know where the extra $565,000 the Capital Region Housing Corporation is requesting would be spent on its Caledonia redevelopment (rendering, above), a subsidized housing project in Fernwood behind Vic High. (Photo courtesy of Capital Region Housing Corporation)

Victoria councillors want additional information before they approve more than $1 million from the city’s housing fund for a 158-unit redevelopment in Fernwood.

The Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) has applied for a $1.065-million grant for its proposal, dubbed the Caledonia redevelopment, from the Victoria Housing Reserve Fund, which supports below-market rate housing projects.

The fund provides a maximum $500,000 per project – unless council approves a higher amount – to ensure the program can fund multiple proposals each application cycle. In a report presented by staff at council’s Nov. 25 committee-of-the-whole meeting, that maximum was recommended, but an alternate recommendation was provided, to approve the full $1.065-million request because the Caledonia project was the only applicant in the most recent intake period.

The project strongly aligns with the fund’s objectives, staff told the committee, citing its focus on serving those with very low to moderate incomes and helping people at a high risk of homelessness, as well as the location being in a central and walkable neighborhood that is close to several schools.

In its application, the CRHC said the project faces financial challenges due to the pandemic causing supply chain issues and municipal approval delays. For these reasons, the CRHC asked council to waive the $500,000 cap and allocate the larger amount.

“Since the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic began, the construction industry has been impacted across the country and thus, we have witnessed huge increases in the costs for labour, materials and overhead construction costs,” read a supporting letter from CRHC vice-chair David Screech.

READ: 158-unit affordable housing development moves forward in Victoria

Council will make the final decision on the grant at its Dec. 9 council meeting. Ahead of that decision, staff will provide more details about the Caledonia project and the effect a larger grant would have on the project, such as potentially lower rents for future tenants.

In discussion, Couns. Geoff Young and Stephen Andrew were opposed to allocating the larger figure, but voiced support for a $500,000 grant. Andrew took issue with the application not specifying exactly where the increased grant funds would be spent, adding applicants for housing fund moneys “better come with their ducks in a row.”

Other councillors noted a request for a larger amount would mean going back and changing the reserve fund’s requirements.

“If there’s more information that council wishes to see from applicants when these reports come forward then I think we need to ask for that at a policy level,” Coun. Jeremy Loveday said.

READ: Daytime warming centres to now open for Victoria homeless during emergency weather events

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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