Saying it’s already gone over and above what was expected in streamlining the housing process, Victoria is calling on the federal government to pony up promised funds.
But the request for tens of millions of dollars comes as council is still slowing down some applications in the approval pipeline and as the city faces the prospect of no housing funds under Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s plan.
Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto said Monday that she wrote to federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser last week, asking that the capital gets its “fair share” of federal housing funding. A monetary infusion to the tune of $28 million – through the federal Liberals’ Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) – is in order after the city executed what the mayor called the “nation-leading” Victoria Housing Strategy.
“As Victorians know, we live in a small city with a big city’s housing crisis. Victoria is a vibrant, growing city with a strong economy and a skilled workforce but our municipality’s capacity to support further growth is challenged by a very constrained housing market that is no longer tied to local incomes,” Alto said in a statement.
“Victoria simply cannot wait any longer for the necessary federal funding to help fix our housing challenges – funding in an amount that matches the scale of those challenges and reflects our city’s role in the regional rental, affordable and urban Indigenous housing systems.”
Alto’s predecessor Lisa Helps, now the premier’s housing solutions advisor, frequently lobbied her council to support housing projects under the guise of being eligible for the $4 billion accelerator fund. The program – which dished out $74 million to London, Ont. earlier this month – provides incentives to communities that increase their housing supply by cutting red tape, fixing outdated local zoning policies and building homes faster.
But as recently as July, Victoria council said a project in James Bay – that would transform a parking lot into a mixed-use site with 112 new one-to-three-bedroom strata units – should go back to the drawing board. That was despite the developer providing public amenities, a rent-free daycare and situating a 17-storey tower across from existing apartments to the north while using smaller townhouses as a transition from mostly single-family neighbourhoods to the south.
City staff had reservations over the project’s height, mass and how it would fit into future uses of the area.
“Our council has obviously been and will continue to be very pro-housing, but it doesn’t mean that anything goes all the time,” Coun. Jeremy Caradonna said as he moved to refer the project so it could be adjusted.
Philip MacKellar, a member of the advocacy group Homes For Living, said delays – whether well thought out or not – will always increase the costs of units when they reach the rental or ownership market.
“(Delays) are problematic, if a council is in a housing crisis, which we are, the capacity or bandwidth to be nit-picky to specific details should be lower than if we were not in a housing crisis,” he said.
“This was a bit disappointing for sure, but I think that this project will eventually come back to council and they’ll pass it.”
While he notes it delayed approving the Harris Green Village project, MacKellar said he’s encouraged that this group at City Hall likely greenlit more units than any council has during a first year in office. He noted surrounding communities have done less on housing, while Oak Bay has created a regulatory environment where projects are barely pitched now.
Speaking with media outside city hall on Monday, Alto refuted that the city isn’t doing enough to streamline the housing process when asked about the James Bay project. The mayor said city processes that simplify and speed up building different forms of housing are working, but she acknowledged there’s always more to do. Alto noted council will be updated with proposed changes to the Missing Middle Initiative this week.
The mayor said Fraser confirmed Victoria has been approved for accelerator funding, but the feds have not confirmed a dollar amount as she requested.
“Our position … is that based on our housing strategies and based on the criteria of the (housing accelerator), we not only meet but dramatically exceed their criteria,” Alto said.
A request for comment from the federal housing minister went unanswered Monday (Sept. 25).
The accelerator fund’s structure is also being debated in Ottawa as the Conservative Party of Canada’s Poilievre unveiled his own housing plan last week.
It’s unclear whether Poilievre’s private member’s bill – which would reward cities that boost housing while cutting funding for ones that don’t hit targets – would see Victoria be eligible for any money. The bill’s infrastructure-funding bonuses and holdbacks would apply to 22 “high-cost cities” that don’t include Victoria, Nanaimo or any other Island communities.
“I can’t speak on Mr. Poilievre’s policies but I know that the city is now the fourth-most expensive in Canada and so it would be peculiar to see that we weren’t on a list like that,” Alto said.
Black Press Media reached out to Poilievre’s parliamentary email for comment but received no response about what data informed the “high-cost cities” or if his bill would withhold funding from Victoria.