The M’akola Housing Society is taking another crack at developing affordable rental apartments in Langford, despite consistent setbacks at making similar projects work.
The non-profit society, which has developed dozens of low-income housing units across the region and Vancouver Island, is looking to build two apartment blocks at 554 Goldstream Ave., replacing 17 townhouse units the society built in 1987.
M’akola’s plan envisions a four- to six-storey building with about 40 apartments, replacing a block of five townhouses and a septic field near the front of the property. A second similar building would be contemplated if the first gets off the ground.
Last week Langford’s planning and zoning committee gave its thumbs-up to rezoning the 2.6-acre parcel for higher density residential-commercial. If approved by council, the society would get a break on development fees, but M’akola would have to preserve existing greenspace on the property.
M’akola executive director Kevin Albers said the rezoning is a preemptive strike in the hope that BC Housing develops an affordable housing fund earmarked for these types of projects. Financing for the Goldstream Avenue project isn’t yet in place.
“We are trying to get the property ready to capitalize on a provincial housing program when launched,” Albers said. “A key strategy is to have the property ready to go.”
The goal is to have at least 50 per cent of the rental units offered to families at 10 per cent below market rates. Most of the units would be two or three bedroom.
M’akola launched a similar project in 2008 at the same Goldstream property, at the time envisioning a 46-unit complex with units at 20 per cent below market rates. The grants and financing needed did not come through, Albers said.
“In 2008 it was a case not getting all the pieces together,” he said. “Then the economic crunch came and everyone pulled back (funding). It take a lot of support to make a project work.
“It’s a fine balancing act between funding affordable rentals, and the construction costs.”
In February 2010, M’akola announced a $14 million partnership project to build subsidized apartments in a five-storey building on Spencer Road next to the Trans-Canada Highway. Again, the financing fell through. In that case BC Housing and the federal government were ready to chip in $1.7 million for units dedicated to low-income seniors.
Arranging financing and finding ways to fund the gap between debt payment and below-market rental income is proving to be a difficult. An apartment block proposal on Sooke Road in Colwood also died early in the planning stages.
“It’s absolutely brutal to make work. If it were easy then everybody would do it,” Albers said. “It’s a fine line, and if it all doesn’t work exactly right, it won’t work.”
Albers said there are plenty of people in need for below market rentals, especially in a region with continually low rental vacancies.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation predicts the rental unit vacancy rate to remain at 1.5 per cent in 2011 and decline to one per cent next year. It expects demand to increase due to people moving to Greater Victoria.
Albers said he is “cautiously optimistic and reasonably confident” the latest project will move beyond the planning stage.
“I’m a patient man. The community needs it, a lot of families need affordable housing.”