Identifying opportunities for affortable units

Saanich approach to affordable housing making homes more costly, homebuilders association says
Kyle Slavin, Saanich News

Saanich’s affordable housing fund actually makes homes less affordable, claims the Canadian Home Builders’ Association.

“What’s happening is, rather than creating affordable units, (Saanich is) contributing to a lack of affordable housing in Greater Victoria,” Casey Edge, executive officer of the CHBA’s Victoria branch said. “Every time the cost of housing increases, consumers get knocked out of the market because they can no longer afford to buy.”

The municipal affordable housing fund began in 2008. It was originally council’s response to developers who wanted Saanich to do more than make an annual contribution of $297,000 to the Capital Regional District’s Housing Trust Fund.

Right now, developers are encouraged to contribute actual units, which can then be sold as affordable housing. Alternatively, they can make a cash contribution to the affordable housing fund – the current formula calls for $1,500 per unit in the development. The latter option has proven the more popular one among developers.

“CRD housing has not been receptive to (having) one unit here, one unit there,” Mayor Frank Leonard said. “I’d love for somebody to knock on our door with a solution.”

Leonard notes that money in the fund has contributed to affordable housing, pointing to the Pacifica Housing complex on Douglas Street.

But in Edge’s opinion, the municipality needs to come up with a better plan.

Though $1,500 seems small, he points out it’s another cost to the consumer buying a home.

“That’s something elected officials seem to have troubles getting their heads around. It’s not a small amount of money when someone now doesn’t qualify for a mortgage because the costs keep going up,” he said.

Developers, in turn, need more direction from council about how much is expected to be contributed towards affordable housing, transportation and sustainability features.

Though Saanich’s affordable housing fund currently sits at $91,500, Saanich is expecting more than $100,000 from a handful of developments currently in the pipeline.

However, councillors have repeatedly said that affordable housing units are worth significantly more than what’s raised by cash contributions.

“It’s generated some missed opportunities where we could’ve incorporated affordable units into larger projects,” Coun. Dean Murdock said. “Even though we have the advantage of a cash contribution, it would’ve been far more advantageous to have units.”

With physical units in its inventory, Saanich would have a better chance to negotiate with developers to secure affordable units in major centres, Murdock said.

“What we’ll need to see is a strategy on how to utilize that funding to leverage the greatest advantage to generate units in the community,” he said. “I suspect as we continue to generate funds we will see more opportunities to locate affordable housing units and to build up that inventory of units.”