An affordable housing project that once appeared on ice is now moving ahead, in revised form and at a higher cost.
Kaye Melliship, executive director of the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS), said her organization plans to submit a revised rezoning application for the redevelopment of Townley Lodge following an open house Tuesday.
“As a result of the positive response we are proceeding to architectural and engineering design so that we can submit a rezoning application,” said Melliship. “We hope to go to [committee of the whole] in September, with [public hearing] in October or November and final reading early in 2018. We are up against a time pressure with our funding, and need to begin construction in January, February 2018, by that I mean demolition and site preparation.”
Construction would take at least 18 months. “If any of these milestones can be achieved earlier, all the better,” she said.
Construction costs top $20.6 million, according to Melliship. That is up from an earlier estimate of $18 million, with the primary reason for the increase “due to increase in construction costs over the last year.”
Plans call for 54 apartments for seniors and 10 family townhouses spread across a large three-storey building and a series of smaller buildings at 1780 Townley St. They would replace the current two-storey building, which the GVHS has operated since 1967.
Plans submitted last fall proposed to replace the building’s current 39 low-income seniors rental units with 51 new senior apartments and 16 family townhouses across three building, including a four-storey building.
But the $18-million project ran into opposition when residents living near Townley Lodge raised concerns about the proposed four-storey building.
While these critics acknowledged the need for affordable housing, they feared that the building would diminish their quality of life and property values – concerns that convinced council to indefinitely postpone a public hearing for the project.
Several councillors noted at the time that GVHS had not done enough to win over the neighbourhood.
Council’s de-facto rejection of the proposal sparked criticism from affordable housing advocates and business leaders, and GVHS considered selling the property with proceeds going to fund affordable housing projects elsewhere, among other options.
GVHS, however, eventually revised its proposal over the course of multiple consulting sessions with community leaders and residents leading up to the final design that the GVHS plans to submit.
According to Melliship, about 40 people attended the open house which GVHS had organized at Townley Lodge itself. Prior to the open house, GVHS representatives met with current Townley Lodge residents, including Veronica Green, who told the Saanich News last week that residents felt “stressed and frustrated” by the lack of certainty surrounding the project.
GVHS said last year that it would work individually with residents to develop a relocation plan that would see residents receive one of more than 500 units that the society operates elsewhere or alternatively place them with another non-profit agency. Current tenants who wish to return to Townley have the right of first refusal.
GVHS has reiterated this commitment throughout the process and has already started re-housing Townley Lodge tenants in other buildings.
While Green said she could not speak for other residents after Tuesday’s open house, she still feels uncertain about her prospects. “I’m still not sure what I will be doing,” she said.
While Green acknowledged GVHS’ efforts to accommodate tenants, she said it cannot guarantee anything. “They cannot create units out of thin air,” she said.
Green said it is unlikely she will permanently find herself in one of the facilities that GVHS operates. She will either find something on her own that would be permanent – “I used to be a nomad. Now I want to stay somewhere and put down roots.” – or return to Townley Lodge after a temporary stay in a GVHS facility, if appropriate and secure in the knowledge that she could afford to stay at the new facility.
“I love this neighbourhood,” she said.