BCNPHA in the News

CBC News: Government says new Victoria micro-apartments will help with middle-income housing crisis

CBC News, Adam van der Zwan, August 20 (with quote from BCNPHA Policy Director Marika Albert)

The federal government says a new micro-unit apartment in downtown Victoria will be a step closer to relieving the ever-growing middle-income housing crisis.

“The 60-unit project will receive $13.25 million [in] support from the federal government,” said Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of families, children and social development.

Like other Canadian cities, Victoria’s affordable housing options are shrinking as wages stagnate and rental prices increase. The project’s funding comes as part of Canada’s new National Housing Strategy, which aims to provide $55 billion over the next decade to develop affordable housing across the country.

Vaughan said the building at 840 Fort St. will house 44 bachelor suites and 16 one-bedroom units ranging from 285 to 358 square feet.

He said rental rates will be “30 per cent below the median rent” in Victoria, to allow for single, middle-income workers to live close to where they work. A statement from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation said rates would range from $995 to $1,450 per month.

“Every time we build additional rentals, it helps,” said Coun. Marianne Alto. “Obviously, we have a long way to go, and rentals are the majority of our residents here.”

Vaughan said a few of the units will be fully accessible for renters with special needs.

“This project has such an amazing array of characteristics that it’s going to function as part of the neighbourhood very quickly,” he said.

Attracting tech workers

Robert Fung, president of The Salient Group, the building’s developer, said the apartment is situated in Victoria’s tech-industry corridor to attract young tech workers.

“We felt it was important to bring the same kind of energy into a residential building,” he said.

Graeme Csath is the co-founder of the downtown company, Covault Technologies, and says “affordability is a challenge for many tech workers in Victoria,” especially those just starting their careers.

“I live with my partner in a one-bedroom condo. It would be very difficult, if we weren’t living together, to [pay rent],” he said, adding that he thought many tech workers will find the new apartment’s prices “acceptable.”

‘One small part of a puzzle’

Eric Swanson, director of Generation Squeeze, an organization that advocates to better the lives of young Canadians, said while the project will allow single professionals more living options, it’s still “one small part of a much bigger puzzle.”

“The rents [for the microlofts] are lower than they would be otherwise, but … we need to see rents come down far lower in our opinion,” he said. The key to solving the problem is for the federal government to take more action to cool the broader housing market, he explained.

Swanson noted the project doesn’t meet the needs of the many middle-income families in Victoria who need more space to raise a family. “[We need] a lot more two or three bedroom units,” he said.

Vaughan explained that “not every project meets everybody’s needs … even on a site with 300 units.”

Single units a trend

Marika Albert, policy director for the British Columbia Non-Profit Housing Association, said the “general trend” has been for developers to build smaller units that are more affordable for single residents, rather than larger units for families who are continuously forced out of urban areas.

Diana Gibson, CEO of the Community Social Planning Council in Victoria, added the city should make its policies easier for middle-income people to live in places like basement suites, which could offer them up to 1,000 square-feet of living space.

She noted that family housing in Victoria tends to be pushed to arterial roadways that aren’t safe for children.

Coun. Alto said to meet everyone’s housing needs will take collaboration from the city, the province and the federal government.

“We all have to work together to make these kinds of projects a reality.”

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