Victoria Mayor and City Council
Victoria City Hall
25 February 2020
Re: Cook Street Plaza – Letter of Support
Dear Mayor and Council,
Cities for Everyone is an independent community organization that advocates for more affordable and efficient housing and transportation options in the CRD. I am writing to support the Cook Street Plaza development proposed at the corner of Johnson and Cook streets because it can help achieve our community goals.
Many low- and moderate-income households in our region spend more than is affordable on housing and transportation. The CRD Regional Housing Affordability Strategy estimated that by 2038 the region needs approximately 10,000 new rental units priced under $875 per month, 7,419 priced at $875-1,375, plus 17,060 priced above $1,375. Social housing can serve a portion of unmet needs, particularly for the lowest-income households, but the rest must be met by building more moderate-priced market housing, which provides affordable housing for moderate-income households, and makes more lower-priced housing available through filtering, as some existing occupants of lower-priced homes move into the new units.
For affordability, health and environmental sake, it is important that most new housing be located in walkable urban neighborhoods where residents can minimize motor vehicle travel and rely on resource-efficient travel options. Residents of compact, multimodal communities:
- Spend 10-30% less on transportation.
- Spend less time driving and delayed by congestion.
- Consume less energy and produce 20-50% less pollution emissions.
- Have substantially lower traffic casualty rates.
- Are healthier and live longer.
- Have greater economic mobility (chance that children born in lower-income households become economically successful as adults).
- Require less land for roads and parking, which reduces stormwater management costs and heat island effects, and preserves openspace (farmland and habitat).
- Reduce costs of providing roads, parking facilities and public services.
The Cook Street Plaza has many features that help achieve these community goals. It includes 211 new homes, of which 104 will be affordable to moderate-income households earning $40,000-100,000 annual income, plus locally focused retail, a purpose-built childcare facility for up to 75 children, bicycle facilities, a new transit shelter, on-site carsharing, greenspace (including children’s play areas) replacing large parking lots, and energy efficient design features. The project is participating in BC Housing’s HousingHUB Affordable Homeownership Program, which results in below market prices with future value gains (predicted to total more than $5 million) returned to Victoria’s Housing Reserve fund. This project can provide an example and inspiration for the development of thousands of more moderate-priced housing units in walkable urban neighborhoods.
An extensive body of credible research indicates that increasing moderate-priced housing supply increases both low- and moderate-income household affordability, including Stuart Rosenthal’s study, “Are Private Markets and Filtering a Viable Source of Low-Income Housing? Estimates from a ‘Repeat Income’ Model,” published in the American Economic Review; Miriam Zuk and Karen Chapple’s study, Housing Production, Filtering and Displacement: Untangling the Relationships, by the Berkeley Institute of Government Studies; and Supply Shock Versus Demand Shock: The Local Effects of New Housing in Low-Income Areas published by the Upjohn Institute. A recent study, “The Effect of New Luxury Housing on Regional Housing Affordability” by Evan Mast, described in Daniel Herriges’ The Connectedness of Our Housing Ecosystem, used an innovative approach to measure filtering impacts. It tracked the moving history of residents at 802 new multifamily developments in 12 cities. It found that building market-price apartments causes a kind of housing musical chairs, as occupants of lower-priced homes move into the new units. This indicates that every 100 new market-rate units frees up 20-50 units affordable to low- and moderate-income families in existing buildings. Also see, “The Stubborn Myths of Rent and Gentrification” and “How Filtering Increases Housing Affordability.”
To achieve our community goals, Victoria must grow up! Our region needs a lot more moderate-priced housing to serve the unmet needs of moderate-income families, and free up existing homes for lower-income households. Much of this housing should be in mixed-use developments located in walkable neighborhoods, close to downtown, with minimum parking supply and useful community amenities. We therefore encourage City Council to approve the additional height and density, and reduced parking requirements needed for this project.