Victoria City Council Letter: 1201 Fort St.

Victoria City Council

Victoria City Hall

23 May 2017

Re: 1201 Fort St. and 1050 Pentrelew Place

 

Dear City Councillors,

Like many attractive, economically successful and geographically constrained cities, Victoria is experiencing housing unaffordability. To address this problem we need thousands of new housing units. Fortunately, many hundreds of units are under development in the downtown core, but these are unsuitable to many households, particularly families with children. We need more townhouses and apartments in walkable neighborhoods throughout our City.

To help address this need, Cities for Everybody supports the development proposed at 1201 Fort Street and 1050 Pentrelew Place. This project increases housing supply and improves housing options in our city. It can provide 91 new housing units in a very accessible location, and sets an example for future development in the areas. Adding constraints to this project will discourage more of this type of housing.

 

I would like to respond to some objections critics raise about this project:

  1. It is too tall for a residential neighborhood.

Grow up, Victoria! This development is on a major urban arterial, not inside a neighborhood. Six stories is an appropriate height in such locations. Our Official Community Plan allows floor space ratios (FSRs) up to 3.5 in that area, far higher than the project’s 1.39.

  1. It will increase traffic problems.

Infill development tends to increase local vehicle trips, but because the project is in a walkable area near downtown and on major bus routes, it will generate far fewer trips than those residents would in most neighborhoods. Recent studies (Millard-Ball 2015; Schneider, Handy and Shafizadeh 2014) show that conventional traffic models greatly exaggerate the number of vehicle trips actually generated in Smart Growth locations, so if a study predicts that this project will generate 100 daily vehicle trips, the actual number is probably less than 50. As a result, this project may slightly increase local traffic but will significantly reduce regional traffic problems compared with those households locating in more automobile-oriented areas.

  1. The units will be unaffordable.

Although these units may initially be too costly for lower-income households, they will contribute to affordability in three important ways.

  • Buildings typically depreciate in value 1-3% annually, so housing that initially seems expensive becomes more affordable over time.
  • The rate by which housing depreciates depends on the speed with which housing supply grows: if supply does not increase to meet demand, existing units will only depreciate about 1% annually, but if supplies increase, they will depreciate faster, such as 3% annually.
  • Increasing middle-priced housing supply allows more middle-income households to move up from lower- to higher-priced units, more renters to purchase new homes, more older homes to become rentals, and older housing to depreciate more rapidly, a process called filtering. In this way, increasing middle-priced housing supply helps increase affordability overall, even if the new units are initially seem expensive to lower-income households.
  1. Increasing allowable density only benefits greedy developers.

No, increasing urban densities allows more households to live in walkable urban neighborhoods. However, the households that would benefit have no voice; they are unaware that their future homes depend on current development polices and so are unable to advocate for pro-infill policies. Their interests are represented by developers. Developers are no greedier than other business people, including farmers, bakers and bikeshop owners, all of whom produce useful products in order to earn a profit.

  1. It displaces greenspace.

This development can provide 91 units on approximately two acres, a very efficient use of land. Despite this density, more than half the site is openspace, which is only possible with taller buildings. Although this project may reduce greenspace compared with what previously existed, it preserves greenspace compared with the same households living in conventional suburban sprawl.

 

Allowing developers to construct more mid-rise (3-6 story) townhouses and multi-family housing in walkable urban neighborhoods is the best way for Victoria to accommodate more residents and increase overall affordability. Please approve and support this and similar projects.

Sincerely,

Todd Litman

Cities for Everyone

 

Comments

  1. Medium densification, elements of affordability, encouraging active transportation in such an ideal location for walking, bicycling and transit – and this type of development will also increase energy efficiency. Thanks to Cities For Everyone and Todd Litman for conceptualizing the discourse differently.

    1. Thanks Marion! Yes, that is our message. Hopefully, our City Council will agree!

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