I’ve been receiving questions lately with regard to both bike lanes and affordable housing. They go something like this: “Why are you spending so much money on bike lanes and nothing on affordable housing?” And, “Why don’t you use your role as mayor to do something real about affordable housing instead of just asking people to open up their homes?”

The simple answers are, “We aren’t.” And, “I am.” Both of these need some explaining.

By the end of 2018, Victoria will have a 5.6km network of All Ages and Abilities bike lanes in the downtown. This will cost approximately $9 million. By 2022, 75% of Victorians will live within 400m of a complete All Ages and Abilities network. The cost of the complete network has not yet been determined as the design of many components still needs to be undertaken through work with the community. This network, which takes a “complete streets” approach, improves conditions for all road users.

The active transportation network that we’re building, including bike lanes, is funded by gas taxes. These are monies collected at the gas pump and distributed back to local governments. There are restrictions as to what gas tax funds can be used for. They must be used for projects that have a sustainability impact; they cannot be used for affordable housing.

Yet bikes lanes, do contribute to affordability for Victorians. How? According to the Canadian Automobile Association, the cost of car ownership for a compact car is approximately $9500 per year. On average, Canadians spend more per year on owning and operating a car than they do on groceries.

We’re building a city where, in the not so distant future, car ownership might not be a necessity for many people. Victoria’s All Ages and Abilities network, when complete, will connect 75% of Victorians from their homes safely to the rest of the city. That means Victorians who now have to use cars will have approximately $9500 more in their pockets every year. That’s $800 more per month that can be spent on rent, groceries, piano lessons etc. Bike lanes contribute to making life more affordable for Victorians and making the city more liveable too.

As for affordable housing, and how much we’re spending in both time and money, it’s a lot more than on bike lanes. For those who don’t know about all the work doing as city and region on this issue, we’re using every tool in our municipal and regional tool boxes to get affordable housing built.

Right after the last election, Council struck a Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing. The task force was made up of non-profit and for-profit housing developers, housing advocates and others. In five short meetings the Task Force developed detailed and concrete recommendations. After receiving public input, Council quickly adopted these and staff created Victoria’s 2016-2025 Municipal Housing Strategy.

Since adopting the Housing Strategy Council has removed restrictions on garden suites, making it possible for anyone living in a single family dwelling to build a small rental unit in their backyard. It used to cost $4000 and take 12 months for permission. Now it costs $200 and takes four weeks.

We’ve also made it easier for homeowners to build secondary suites by removing restrictions in zoning that limited the amount of exterior changes that could be made to a building containing a secondary suite. These zoning changes increase the number of properties eligible for secondary suites while still maintaining livability, safety and affordability.

We’re fast tracking all new multi-unit residential buildings. And we’re in the process of revamping the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to incentivize the building of larger units, to prioritize women, children and First Nations, and to allow the Trust Fund to be used for affordable home ownership projects.

And all that is just in the city! In the early fall of 2015, myself and two of my council colleagues at the City of Victoria took the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness’s research and turned it into a funding strategy. We proposed – quite boldly and with much initial consternation from the media and some of our colleagues – that the CRD borrow up the $30 million to build new supportive and affordable housing in our region subject to the Provincial government matching with $30 million and Island Health covering the costs of health supports as needed.

We were thrilled in May 2016 when the Province showed strong leadership and matched the Region’s $30 million contribution. The $60 million Regional Housing First Program will build 880 units of affordable housing over the next five years, including 268 units that rent at $375 per month. And, I was recently in Ottawa advocating to the federal government to contribute their $30 million share; with federal funding we will build close to 1400 new units of affordable, and where needed, supportive housing.

Finally, we are ensuring that the monies are well spent and directed to where the need is. A refreshed Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which I co-chair, is responsible for developing a Community Plan which will guide both new capital spending and system improvements to the existing housing ecosystem. This plan has been developed with a wide range of community members including people with lived experiences of homelessness.

Affordable housing, bike lanes, high-quality transit and compact, walkable land-uses are all key to building a healthy, prosperous and sustainable city. To do so we can’t make “either or” choices, we must take a systems-based and ecosystem-based approach.

 

11 comments

  1. Sounds promising to me. This is a good response. I presume somewhere in minutes these efforts are recorded. No doubt it is not widely known. Thank you. I will now track these initiatives for my own info. Norrie Froman Victoria B.C.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for using a picture of Greater Victoria Housing Society’s Dahli Place – an affordable rental housing project that the City of Victoria supported. Looking forward to providing more affordable housing with your revamped Housing Trust Fund. (PS – love the bike lanes!).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My young family loves the new bike lanes and we are really excited for more protected lanes. We’ve lived in the Fernwood/South Jubilee for 10+ years and it is very difficult to bike downtown without having to ride on sidewalks or roads without lanes. The protected lane on Pandora is a BIG step forward. I rode the entire thing with my 4.5 year old (on his own bike) this weekend and he was thrilled. Please keep going with this project. It will really help us continue to be a 1-car family. If we can avoid buying a 2nd car, Victoria will be a more affordable city for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Stoked about the bike lanes and I hope we soldier on with completing the rest of the network. I know we can be a great cycling city, and lanes like the one on Pandora are going to be critical in getting us there.

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  5. “Since adopting the Housing Strategy Council has removed restrictions on garden suites, making it possible for anyone living in a single family dwelling to build a small rental unit in their backyard. It used to cost $4000 and take 12 months for permission. Now it costs $200 and takes four weeks.

    We’ve also made it easier for homeowners to build secondary suites by removing restrictions in zoning that limited the amount of exterior changes that could be made to a building containing a secondary suite. These zoning changes increase the number of properties eligible for secondary suites while still maintaining livability, safety and affordability.”

    While it’s true, there are many more rentals now, they are beyond affordable. These rental suites are on average of $1300 per month. Maybe there should be a cap on what people can charge now that things are easier for them to make a profit.

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    1. The 880 affordable rental units built through the Regional Housing First Program will range in rent from $375 per month (or whatever the shelter rate is raised to!) and 85% of market. In other words, there will be a rent cap on all these units.

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  6. I’m encouraged by your use of the phrase every ability. I am a disabled woman living in Victoria. I would love to walk outside here, but require the use of a handrail to do so for balance. Other than Ogden point,which is so windy I could be knocked down,or Victoria general hospital are there any trails or,hotels that have long railed walkways?

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  7. Wonderful Lisa. I think you are doing fantastic work. Thank you for taking the time to clarify these issues. I especially appreciate how you have exposed the common thread of how adequate safe cycling lanes and affordability to live in Victoria are linked. I think it’s easy for people to spout negative “not good enough” opinions without endeavouring to find out what IS being proposed and IS being implemented. I personally am loving the new cycling lanes. I have noticed many many more people using the Pandora lanes, including children riding their own bikes and babies on the fronts/backs of parents’ bikes. They are safe, easy to navigate (all change takes some getting used to) and the lane was particularly helpful in getting me home safely the night one of my bike lights decided to die on the way home!

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