LETTER: View Royal lacks transparency on affordable housing development

Many residents in View Royal are starting to question the way business is being conducted in our town, and in return, those who have shown civic concern have had their personal character attacked in public online forums by those in powerful positions.

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The proposed development at West Park Lane (the former 5-hectare Thetis Lake Campground across from the CRD parking lot at Thetis Lake Park) is a 152 affordable housing complex which consists of income assistance to near market units. The issue at hand is not affordable housing. The community has demonstrated at the Town Hall Council Meeting on May 21 that we support locating affordable housing on this property. However, what we do not support is entirely waiving $920k of the Development Cost Charges (DCC fees) like the Mayor of View Royal, David Screech, is suggesting.

READ ALSO: View Royal residents debate affordable housing proposal in a packed council meeting

Transparency from town hall is crucial. The developer has shown no financial requirement for the basis of waiving their DCC fees. If there is a requirement for financial assistance, it should be easy to prove. Furthermore, a number of steps in the political process seem a bit unsettling, such as Screech receiving campaign contributions from the developer, a letter in support of the proposed development being accepted by Town Hall from a vacant lot (owned by developer in question), and the fact Screech sits as the vice-chair of the Capital Regional Housing Corporation (i.e. the future operators of the proposed affordable housing complex). Transparency in respect to this development is concerning View Royal residents.

READ ALSO: View Royal Mayor denounces councillors making ‘pointless’ opposition to affordable housing project

Affordability is also a major concern. If the idea of this development is to provide affordable living in the community, then why does View Royal raise property taxes by 5.2 per cent on the one hand while offering to subsidize almost $1 million for a multi-million-dollar corporation on the other hand? For a town of under 11,000 people, this is a lot of money to waive.

Taxation is often forgotten in the equation of affordability. Affordability for the future residents should also be taken into consideration. The location of the proposed development is challenging. The closest bus stop is at the bottom of a hill over 800 metres away with sidewalks only on one side of the road. The closest grocery store, clinic, or elementary school? That would be over two kilometres down Highway 1.

Those issues might be overlooked if the units were actually affordable. West Park Lane will be offering 2-bedroom units for $1790 a month. Colwood’s new Helios affordable housing development will be offering comparable 2-bedroom units at $1292 a month. That’s almost $500 cheaper and according to Rajvir Rao of BC Housing, Helios “is near community amenities, schools, retail areas and transit.” Affordable housing shouldn’t make the poor poorer and the rich richer. DCC fees help reduce the wealth gap.

READ ALSO: 82 new rental units available in Colwood

Finally, as of right now, View Royal lacks any policy on affordable housing. By pushing through the DCC waiver without concrete and identifiable policies, View Royal will inevitably create inequity amongst businesses and municipalities in the area. Multiple businesses have spoken up in opposition to waiving the developer’s DCC fees entirely by calling into question why their market-value projects didn’t receive such leniency when their higher-end units are rentable for below the proposed affordable housing’s rent schedule.

Moreover, a quick look around at the affordable housing policies in other municipalities in Greater Victoria reveals that without a housing reserve fund, a complete DCC fee write-off for developers is unprecedented. Regrettably, View Royal hasn’t created a housing reserve fund like many other municipalities have, otherwise we might be in another position.

Something in our municipal system is broken. Common civility and open debate have been compromised. Concerned residents engaging in the political process have been accused by the political and business elite in View Royal of being NIMBYs and worse.

Have a look online at our Facebook group (Chilco/Thetis Development Discussion) to decide for yourself. You’ll find a group of ordinary residents looking out for what’s best in their community, including those new residents in the proposed affordable housing complex.

We believe that transparency, affordability and policy considerations are required in View Royal before town hall considers waiving over $920k in DCCs which could have drastic impacts on future community improvements.

Stephen Oxley and Thea Wilson-Scorgie

View Royal

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