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City councillor's bid for social housing funded by allowing extra-density doesn't sway council

Nov 11 2012

An attempt by Victoria Coun. Lisa Helps to fund social housing through allowing extra density in neighbourhoods outside downtown failed to gain traction last week.

Helps suggested the city adopt a bonus density policy that would see developers pay for being allowed extra density outside the core.

The revenue would be split, with 75 per cent allocated to the city's Housing Trust Fund. The remaining 25 per cent would be used for public realm improvements.

"We cannot keep asking taxpayers to subsidize everything we want to do as a city," Helps said after the meeting.

"We need to find creative ways to finance it ourselves."

Under her proposal, the city would cease its annual transfer of taxpayer funds to the housing trust once the bonus density total reached or exceeded $150,000.

While Helps was lauded for thinking outside the box, the motion failed to get any support at the council table.

Instead, councillors opted to send the idea back to the planning and land use committee for further exploration.

"I'm hopeful and optimistic that this is a way for-ward and that planning and land use will refine it with staff and send it back to council for consideration," Helps said.

Several councillors said the bonus density is not a reliable source of funds.

The bonus density idea "is one that we have looked at in and out seven ways to Sunday," said Mayor Dean Fortin.

"Bonus density outside the downtown core practically doesn't happen. It is not long-term and it is not sustainable," Fortin said.

"It actually generates a very small amount of money," said Coun. Pam Madoff, adding there are a lot of competing interests for the money it does generate.

"In theory it sounds great, but in a city the size of Victoria, with the kind of development history that we have, I think the real flaw in it is the lack of predictability," Madoff said.

Helps didn't buy the argument, saying that $1 million in density bonus funds have been paid to the city in the last six years.

What is needed, she said, is proper management of those funds.

"When you're a business, you don't have reliable sources of revenue coming in, and we need to think like a business and say, 'OK, if we make $450,000 this year, then we need to ... keep $150,000 per year.' So we ration it. We use our profits, if you will, in a way that's going to be sustainable for the business," she said, after the meeting.

Allowing additional density outside of the core wouldn't mean high-rises being built in areas like Cook Street Village, Helps said.

"Density doesn't even necessarily equal height. If you think about micro-lofts, for example, you cram a whole bunch of people into a small space without going up a whole bunch of storeys."

The city's recently adopted Official Community Plan opens the door for bonus density because it incudes a specific objective of having 10,000 residents outside of the core, living in urban villages, something that will require additional density, Helps said. bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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