City of Victoria eliminates rezoning and public hearings for affordable housing

Apr 18 2022, 6:39 pm

In a significant move, Victoria City Council unanimously approved a new policy last week that abolishes the need for rezonings or public hearings for affordable housing building development proposals.

The policy applies to housing built by non-profit or co-op housing organizations and government, as long as the proposal is consistent with the City of Victoria’s Official Community Plan (OCP) and related design guidelines.

With the changes, the review and approval process for such development proposals will be delegated to city staff, instead of City Council.

This is intended to reduce the uncertainty of approval, cost, and time.

According to the City, proponents can expect to see a nine-month reduction in review timelines for a typical project and even more for others. As well, a typical affordable housing development could see $2 million in reduced costs, based on starting construction earlier, and residential construction cost inflation now at more than 1% monthly.

The increased degree of approval certainty also enables affordable housing proponents to better secure funding from federal and provincial governments, as confirmation of zoning is often a requirement for grants.

“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 uncertainty 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 City Council’s change of policy comes as a pre-emptive move ahead of the provincial government’s anticipated legislation changes that will require municipal governments across BC to expedite the approval of housing.

In an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized last month, David Eby, BC Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing, said he will reform the municipal approval process for housing construction later this fall — to clear red tape that prevents some much-needed new condos, apartments, and townhomes from being built for years.

The provincial government is anticipated to introduce legislation after the October 2022 civic elections.

Victoria is the first jurisdiction in BC to approve a city-wide accelerated process for affordable housing projects.

“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 Eby.

The City of Victoria’s population is about 100,000, and it has 27,000 renter households, with almost 50% of those who rent spending over 30% of their income on rent. BC Housing has indicated there is a waitlist of more than 1,100 individuals and families in Victoria in need of affordable housing.

The municipal government states it has approved over 900 affordable rental homes since 2018. It has a goal of building 2,100 affordable rental homes by 2025.

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