Vancouver Island municipality offers homebuyers down-payment grants

The City of Langford, B.C., announced plans to help homebuyers cover their down payments on two bedroom condominium worth up to $450,000 making it more affordable for locals. Various condo projects are photographed in Langford, B.C., Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito. CAH

The Victoria-area city of Langford is offering a helping hand to those who have a dream of owning their own home by providing a five-per-cent down payment on their purchase.

Langford is facing a housing affordability crisis like almost every other community in Canada, says Mayor Stew Young, but the city is tapping into the fees it charges developers to build there and using the money to help first-time buyers with a down payment.

The program was announced Oct. 19, seeking expressions of interest from those hoping to buy their own homes when the process goes live in January.

In the first 24 hours, the city had heard from more than 200 families interested in participating in the program, Young said.

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The Attainable Homeownership Program will provide a maximum of 75 per cent of the five-per-cent down payment required for a two-bedroom condominium valued at $450,000 in Langford, he said.

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The program has a target of helping up to 250 buyers who are qualified to purchase a condominium in the city valued at $450,000 or less, Young said in a recent interview.

The grants, which will be provided on a sliding scale based on gross annual household income of $125,000 or less, could amount to a maximum of $17,500, he said.

“We’re saying, ‘Look, times are tough out there for a lot of people and housing is very expensive, so we can do the condo or townhouse market,'” Young said. “If you live in Langford, we want you to own a home. We want you to put your roots in our community.”

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Applicants must have lived in Langford for the past two years, will need mortgage pre-approval at the purchase price and no member of the qualifying family can own other real estate.

Young said qualifying families can also contribute up to $50,000 in cash or assets to the down payment, on top of the maximum $17,500 city grant.

Single-family homes in Langford near an average sale price of $900,000, but condos could be within reach of families who rent and want to buy but can’t come up with the down payment, he said.

“All this is to really help people get out of the rent cycle and get into home ownership and get some equity built up for themselves and for their family and for the future,” said Young.

The city has built up a $3-million fund to contribute to the downpayment plan, he said.

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British Columbia statistics show Langford was the fastest-growing city in the province in 2020, with a population of 44,069. In 1996, Langford’s population was about 18,000.

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Young said the city is considering plans to increase the density of its downtown core, which includes proposals to build several 18-to-24-storey residential condo towers.

The area is primarily single-family homes that were built as early as the 1950s.

A spokesman for the Canadian Homebuilders’ Association of British Columbia said municipalities across Canada could play a large role in easing the housing affordability crisis.

John Drazic said municipal governments are responsible for rezoning applications, building permits and other approval processes that can speed up or slow developments.

“Where Langford has been a clear trendsetter is really by finding ways to being a progressive municipality by demonstrating a path of leadership in making very streamlined processes for builders and developers to build in Langford,” he said in an interview.

The down payment grant is an example of ground-level approaches that can meet needs of residents who want to buy homes in their communities, said Drazic.

“This is one approach, and I really hope it resonates with other municipalities not only on Vancouver Island but throughout the province and Canada, to see where they can make effective measures on this,” he said.

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Retired Langford resident Tim Allen said the prospect of helping people with down payments shows creative thinking by the city government, but there are local concerns about over-building.

“Really, development is more than just building housing,” said Allen, who was part of a residents group concerned about reduced park space near housing projects. “You have to provide for all types of recreation and amenities, and parts of those amenities are of course green space. It’s not just the hockey rinks.”

Langford’s official community plan calls for 40 per cent open space on development projects, which could be reduced to 25 per cent if there are community benefits to the development, such as affordable housing.

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Ron Coutre, president of Langford’s West Shore Developers Association, said developers pay a high price to build in Langford, but the process is streamlined and results-driven.

“This is just, yet again, another innovative way they’ve come up with to put cold, hard cash right into the pockets of the people who require assistance in being able to afford their first home,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2021.

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