A sign outside the Fairfield Community Centre directs people to an open house for information about the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan. (Kevin Menz/News Staff)

Fairfield plan ‘counterintuitive’ to affordability aims, says working group member

Plan for Victoria neighbourhood heads to public hearing Sept. 12

A member of the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan working group is worried the proposed plan will pave the way for the tear down of existing rental housing in the neighbourhood.

“Will these provisions actually see affordable housing in here? No. It will see the destruction of existing affordable housing,” Wayne Hollohan said. “It’s counterintuitive to what the intent is here.”

The plan could be adopted by Victoria’s city council next month. Its latest draft outlines development guidelines for Fairfield, including instruction on building height, form and style. Plans for transportation and public parks are also included, among other considerations.

Hollohan, a member of a working group established to help guide the neighbourhood plan, is a resident of Fairfield, a former president of the neighbourhood’s community association and a former chair of the association’s planning and zoning committee. He said the plan — in combination with an April 11 council motion that directed city staff to prepare an amendment to zoning bylaws to allow fourplexes “as a right” on lots between 6,000 and 7,499 sq. ft. and sixplexes on lots 7,500 sq. ft. or larger — will lead to increased property values because lots will essentially be pre-approved for larger builds. The increased values will incentivize owners of existing rental properties to sell to developers, who will look to build as much square footage as permitted on the land.

READ ALSO: Fairfield plan, council motion create ‘uncertainty’ for average reader: councillor

“All these properties are likely to be the current affordable rental housing,” Hollohan said.

Only two pages of the 113-page Fairfield plan are solely devoted to housing affordability, but other city-wide policies and documents, such as the Victoria Housing Strategy and the recently adopted inclusionary housing policy, will also guide new builds in the neighbourhood.

Mayor Lisa Helps, speaking last month with Black Press Media about the Fairfield plan, said increasing density in the area, and across Victoria, is needed.

“The reality is that we’re in a housing crisis and a climate crisis, and the best way to address both of those is to have more people living in less space. That’s a basic fundamental of housing affordability and climate mitigation,” Helps said. “More people living in less space makes it more affordable and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

According to Penny Gurstein, a professor with the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning, increasing supply, alone, will not lead to more affordable housing.

READ ALSO: Developers say Victoria’s affordable housing mandate will further drive rental housing crisis

“Just increasing supply will not create more affordable housing,” she said.

Development, in order to work with a desire to increase affordable housing, needs to be governed by proper policies. Purpose-built rentals — meaning properties built to be rentals — already existing in the neighbourhood must also not be overlooked.

“The most affordable rental housing is existing, purpose-built rental housing,” Gurstein said.

The vision with the Fairfield plan, complemented with other city housing policies, is for new builds to include affordable units, according to Helps.

The city’s new inclusionary housing policy, for instance, requires developers to build 20 per cent of units as affordable housing on projects of 60 units or more. Council’s April 11 motion includes, as a requirement for the “as a right” zoning, that at least half the units in the proposed fourplexes and sixplexes be affordable to very low to moderate income households. The Fairfield plan proposes a rental retention area, and the city is considering rental-only zoning.

The affordability requirements may also drive lot prices down, Helps added.

A public hearing for the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan is set for Sept. 12.

READ ALSO: City of Victoria considers permanent rental zoning options

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