Victoria’s Big Housing Moves – Building the Future We Need

Missing Middle Housing forms. The design guidelines ensure that missing middle homes will fit with and complement neighbourhoood character.

This piece was originally printed in the Times Colonist.

Not everyone wants to raise a family in a downtown condo. And, with the cost of single-family dwellings hitting an all-time high, too many families in Victoria can’t afford a $1.4 million starter home. The “missing middle” fills the gap between these two scenarios.

Missing middle housing is ground oriented housing – houseplexes and townhouses – with front doors that open to the street, and backyards that maximize useable green space so kids can play, and families can have their neighbours over for a barbeque.

With its missing middle housing initiative, the City is trying to address an out-of-date planning and zoning process that currently makes it easy to build homes that few people can afford. The missing middle housing initiative will make it as easy to build homes that more people can afford.

Here is an example: On Pembroke Street, across from Central Park, there are two sixplexes under construction that will provide 12 homes likely to sell for $750,000 or $800,000. These homes had to go through a two-year development process with no certainty that they would be approved by Council, and added construction costs due to cost escalation during the approval process. In contrast, on Chandler Street, a single-family home was recently built. This home required no Council approvals and received staff approvals comparatively quickly. It was listed for $2.4 million.

The missing middle proposal would delegate approvals to staff for houseplexes and townhouses – the same way they are currently delegated for single family homes – as long as the proposed new homes fit within design guidelines that ensure compatibility with neighbourhood character.

Making these changes now will help increase the supply of homes available over the next few decades for people we need to attract to and keep in our communities – doctors, nurses, police officers, tradespeople, and others who are essential to our community wellbeing and economy.  

It was reported in the media recently that a doctor planned to relocate to Victoria but couldn’t find a home. VicPD created a hiring incentive of $20,000 to attract officers from other parts of Canada. While there is keen interest from across the country, few have taken up the offer, as they can’t move here because they can’t find suitable housing.

Missing middle housing is not an affordable housing initiative. It should be seen in context of other key housing initiatives the City is working on concurrently to address the full spectrum of housing needs. To solve the housing crisis, we must work at it from all angles and create appropriate housing for people on income assistance, low-income workers, seniors, and working professionals. We must meet people’s housing needs throughout their lifetimes.

That’s why the City recently adopted new legislation to expedite affordable housing projects built by non-profits and co-ops. We streamlined the process and reduced the time, costs and risk to affordable housing providers. This will encourage the development of more deeply affordable housing and new co-ops.

We also recently undertook a villages and corridors planning process. The new plans will increase rental and affordable rental opportunities near neighbourhood centres and along and adjacent to transportation corridors. This initiative has a strong focus on purpose-built rental housing, with incentives for affordable housing. Protecting and increasing the supply of purpose-built rental is a key objective to provide security for renters and prevent displacement.

Taken together, these three big moves address different housing needs in our community and provide opportunities to increase the housing supply in Victoria – for both renters and owners.

Our goal is to increase the supply and diversity of housing, and to improve housing choice.

With all three of these initiatives, city staff have worked hard to challenge themselves, Council and our community to think outside the box, to be creative, and to push the boundaries of provincial legislation. Doing so means we have been able to successfully incorporate the many things we know our community cares about: affordability, accessibility, equity, sustainability, urban design, mobility, and protection of the urban forest.

The City’s recent Housing Needs Assessment made clear that our housing supply is not keeping pace, that there is a large affordability gap for both renters and owners and that our housing options are not meeting the needs of our residents. To have a future that looks different than the projections of our Housing Needs Assessment, we need to take all these actions.

The housing types we build now, and in the future, will influence who can live and work here and how our city grows. In other words, we need to build for the future we want. 

Missing Middle Moving Forward

On Thursday, at a Committee of the Whole meeting, Council voted 5-4 to forward the missing middle initiative to a public hearing before making a decision. This is the first time in ten years that I made notes to introduce a council motion! So I thought I would share them with you all here as a supplement to the post above. You can watch the meeting and find all the staff reports and relevant documents here.

Not enough or flawed consultation

  • We need to be human about this and we need to be honest about it
  • In ten years at the table this is what I’ve observed:
  • Sometimes when people say there was no consultation its that they were just busy in their lives – as many of us are – and they missed information that was out there, until it comes to committee, which is why we have public committee meetings
  • Sometimes when people say there is not enough – or flawed – consultation it means they disagree with the outcome the consultation
  • Some people feel that there has been not enough consultation on this initiative
  • Some people feel that there has been enough consultation and after two years of engagement, just get on with the decision
  • This is why we have a public hearing at the end of the process – so EVERYONE who has now heard about the initiative as it comes to a public committee meeting can join the hearing and have staff clearly explain the initiative to everyone, all at once, and so that everyone can weigh in
  • Let’s not tear our community, council, or staff apart today debating the consultation,
  • Everyone may have different feelings and opinions about the consultation process … [PAUSE]

Housing Crisis

  • But what is not a matter of opinions or feelings, and is a cold, hard fact that everyone can agree on: we are in the middle of the biggest housing crisis our residents have ever faced. It’s a housing affordability crisis AND a housing supply crisis. And it’s a crisis because we haven’t overhauled the city’s residential zoning process, ever, to catch up to the current reality
  • These are the facts.
  • And in a crisis, we have to act.
  • I’m certain that the Missing Middle Housing Initiative is not perfect, and that there will need to be changes over the next few decades as this rolls out
  • But I am convinced of two things, and I hope that a majority of Council members are as well:

First: Economically, we’ve squeezed everything out of these projects that we can:

  • Adaptable units
  • Accessible parking
  • 20% 3 bedrooms
  • Securing right of way for wider sidewalks, street trees or bike lanes
  • Backyards
  • Canopy trees and protection of the urban forest
  • Transportation demand measures like car share and bus passes
  • Contribution to the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund
  • No matter how much more economic analysis we do, or how many more independent consultants we engage to do analysis, the facts will be the same, we can’t squeeze any more out of these homes without turning them into phantom projects that can never be built

Second: We need to send this forward to a public hearing as is – with the tenant protections we’ve now added – and to allow our very keen, intelligent and engaged public to hear from each other before we make a decision.

  • Right now, our inboxes are flooded.
  • We need to take this conversation out of our inboxes and into the public realm so that everyone can hear each other’s stories and circumstances, and so that council can hear them, before we make a final decision
  • There were some members of council who were uncertain about sending the Expedited Affordable Housing proposal forward to a public hearing. But the majority of council decided to do so. And we were all surprised by the stories that people shared that night, and by the overwhelming support for that initiative.
  • We don’t know whether we will be in for a similar surprise with this public hearing or not, but we need to listen, and see what comes forward.
  • Although I don’t want to see this initiative fail at all I’d rather see it fail – or be postponed, or sent back for revisions – after a public hearing than here on the committee floor

A final few wrap up thoughts:

  • When Council makes decisions, we always consult and focus on the most affected stakeholders. This proposal has been to the Renters Advisory Committee and to the Accessibility Working Group. Of the renters who took the survey more were in support of delegated authority than homeowners.
  • And the Accessibility Advisory Committee is the reason that at least one unit in all MM housing needs to be adaptable and have an accessible parking spot
  • The most affected stakeholders are not the people who already own a single family home in Victoria’s traditional neighbourhoods. They will be protected by the design guidelines that will ensure any new buildings are a fit.
  • The most affected people are people like this young woman who wrote to Council:
  • “My husband and I currently live in Fernwood, and have been at our condo for a few years now. We love the city and the neighborhood, but with a baby on the way, and possibly more down the road, we know we will outgrow this condo in the not too distant future. 
  • “I work as a registered nurse at the BC Cancer Agency, and my husband works at the University of Victoria. Even for two working professionals, the dream of owning a single family home seems to be out of reach. We could however, save up and hope to own a townhome or a unit in a multiplex. This would allow us to stay in the community we call home, and raise our family here.
  • Passing this initiative is critical for us, and many, many families in similar situations.”
  • Thousands of others like her will not be able to call Victoria home
  • THESE are some of the people who are also affected by the housing crisis and who will benefit from this initiative, to the benefit of our whole community
  • My closing point – and I really hope that Council and the public will get the analogy that I’m about to make to the climate crisis: how we tackle the housing crisis is a complex issue with a number of solutions
  • You don’t solve the climate crisis by only building bike lanes
  • You also need zero emission buses
  • And Building retrofits
  • And Waste reduction
  • And carbon taxes
  • And so on
  • So too, we don’t solve the housing crisis only by building below market rental units
  • The Missing Middle Housing initiative is not an affordable housing initiative
  • It should be seen in context of other key housing initiatives the City is working on concurrently so we can address the whole spectrum of needs.
  • To solve the housing crisis and the affordability crisis, we have to create appropriate housing for people on income assistance, low-income workers, seniors, and working professionals. We have to meet people’s housing needs throughout their lifetimes.
  • Missing Middle housing alone won’t to that. It can’t do that.
  • That’s why we recently adopted the Expedited Affordable Housing program.
  • It’s why through the villages and corridor planning we’re creating housing opportunity zones and mixed residential zones to create more rental and affordable purpose built rental housing near neighbourhood centres and along and adjacent to transportation corridors.
  • Etc etc
  • Taken together, all of these moves – including missing middle housing  –  address different housing needs in our community
  • Our goal is to increase the supply and diversity of housing, and to improve housing choice.   

One final example about how this all fits together.

  • Chard HAVEN Below Market Affordable Home Ownership at Cook at Yates, financed by BC Housing program (which MMH also eligible for) of the 94 homes that have sold so far, 81 have sold to Victoria renters who will be moving out of their rental units when their new homes are built,
  • That’s 81 units returned to the rental pool
  • Just like addressing the climate crisis means doing more than just building bike lanes, addressing the housing crisis means taking a big picture, long-term, ecosystem based approach
  • MMH taken together along with all of this Council’s other big moves does this. It’s one puzzle piece in a very complex puzzle
  • So let’s send this initiative forward to a public hearing so we can hear from the public, and so they can hear from each other and understand each other’s points of view a bit better before we make a final decision

[PAUSE]

Now I will turn to the seconder

Welcoming Victoria: An Inclusive, Anti-Racist City

To learn more about the process of developing the Welcoming City Strategy and to meet some members of the Welcoming City Task Force, join online this Wednesday October 20th from 5:00-6:30pm for a virtual panel discussion as part of CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. You can register for the Welcoming City session here.

For the past year I’ve been honoured to participate in the City’s Welcoming City Task Force and to work alongside newcomers, people of colour, Black and Indigenous people, agencies that work with and serve them, and with Councillor Dubow as task force co-chair. The task force began in November of 2020 by asking, “What makes Victoria unwelcome?” And we worked together over the next many months to develop a Welcoming City Strategy and Action Plan, which are coming to Council for consideration this Thursday.

Racism makes Victoria unwelcoming to people who are – in increasing numbers – moving here from around the world, and to Indigenous, Black and people of colour who have been here for longer. A survey conducted by the Intercultural Association (ICA) confirms the experiences of the Welcoming City Task Force members and others engaged in the consultation process to develop the Welcoming City Strategy.

The ICA survey found that 71% of who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian or a person of colour personally experienced racism in the past five years in Greater Victoria, either daily, weekly or monthly. And 70% of people who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian or a person of colour feel undervalued, isolated and unsafe in Greater Victoria because of their race or ethnicity.

What can also make Victoria feel unwelcoming is a lack of readily available information on services for newcomers, discrimination when seeking employment or housing, lack of access to and understanding of the legal system, inability to access City services in their first language, fear of calling the police for help, worry about their kids attending school without teachers and other parents having cultural awareness and anti-racism training, lack of access to affordable, culturally appropriate food. And more.

What I experienced as a white settler woman engaged in the Welcoming City Task Force was the extreme warmth and generosity of the task force members and others we engaged over the past year. These are folks who experience systemic discrimination, who are hurt and frustrated by systemic racism. Yet they showed up, shared their painful experiences, trusted us, and trusted the process even though in so many instances trust has been broken and processes have failed them.

To wrap up the engagement process as task force co-chairs, Councillor Dubow and I held a virtual town hall meeting, an open forum to catch any thoughts or ideas that may have been missed in the more structured “Welcoming Standard” workshops (more on that below). Right after the town hall meeting, we had a quick debrief with City staff who were involved in the task force process and attended the town hall meeting.

One veteran staff member who has attended many town halls, public forums and engagement opportunities in their time, remarked on the gratitude and generosity of the participants. The staff member was struck, as was I, that many of the people in attendance who spoke, began their remarks with comments like, “Thank you Councillor Dubow and Mayor Helps for this opportunity.”

Despite the fact that almost all the participants were Black, Indigenous and people of colour, accustomed to experiencing discrimination and racism, generosity and gratitude prevailed. What struck us was the contrast between the Welcoming City Town Hall and others Council has held in the past, where people with race or class privilege attending take for granted that the forum is there for them and sometimes rudely or harshly address council.

The prevalence of racism in Victoria, and the generosity we experienced throughout the Welcoming City process, make me resolute in my commitment to implement the Welcoming City Action Plan and to make Victoria more inclusive, less racist and to achieve Victoria’s Welcoming City vision: a city where newcomers are warmly welcomed and well supported. I anticipate that when the Strategy and Action plan come to Council on Thursday, Council will share this commitment.

Victoria’s Welcoming City work was identified as a priority in Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and was also key action in Victoria 3.0 Recovery, Reinvention, Resilience 2020-2041, the City’s economic action plan. Diversity, inclusion and belonging are key to creating a strong economy for the future.

To develop our Welcoming City approach, we built on the work done by the non-profit Welcoming America, which developed the “Welcoming Standard” in 2009. Since that time, several countries including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United Kingdom joined as members of Welcoming International. The Government of Canada, through the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship joined the network in 2020. The City of Victoria is the first city in Canada to develop a Welcoming City Strategy. The Welcoming Standard is organized according to the following seven categories:

  1. Government Leadership – In welcoming places, local governments implement
    systems, programs, and comprehensive equity, diversity, and anti-racism policies
    that strengthen community efforts and embed inclusion within government
    agencies.
  2. Civic Engagement – Welcoming communities actively ensure that residents,
    including newcomers, fully participate in civic life by increasing access to
    leadership and democratic spaces.
  3. Equitable Access – Welcoming places work to ensure community services and
    opportunities are available to all residents, including newcomers.
  4. Education – Welcoming communities strive for an educational system that
    ensures all students have the support they need to succeed in school and the
    education they need to succeed in the workforce.
  5. Connected Communities – Welcoming communities build connections between
    newcomers and long-term residents by strengthening relationships and
    communicating shared values.
  6. Economic Development – Welcoming communities harness the full potential of
    all residents. Newcomers have the skills and assets to thrive, and economic
    development systems are prepared to leverage new and existing talent.
  7. Safe Communities – Welcoming communities foster trust and build relationships
    between residents, including newcomers, and local law enforcement and safety
    agencies.

Welcoming Standards are community specific roadmaps that provide a guide with community-determined benchmarks to develop stronger, more inclusive communities and bridge the gaps between newcomers and long-time residents. A ‘newcomer’ is defined as a recent immigrant (up to five years in Victoria), refugees, international students, temporary foreign workers, and recent immigrant Canadians relocating to the city. Welcoming cities recognize that communities are healthier, happier, and more productive when newcomers are welcomed and can participate fully in society and the local economy.

Please read the Strategy and Action Plan and share them with others. The work of making Victoria welcoming is work for all of us. And, those of us with race, class and other privilege have a key role to play and key actions to take in making Victoria an inclusive, anti-racist city for everyone and for the future.

Can you invite a newcomer for tea? Can you advocate for anti-racist training in your workplace? Can you ensure your kid’s classroom is welcoming and inclusive of everyone? How can you create time, space and opportunity with and for those who are often marginalized and privilege and centre their voices and experiences? How can you get out of the way when necessary?

To learn more about the process of developing the Welcoming City Strategy and to meet some members of the Welcoming City Task Force, join online this Wednesday October 20th from 5:00-6:30pm for a virtual panel discussion as part of CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. You can register for the Welcoming City session here.

Housing Supply in Victoria is Tipping in the Wrong Direction, and How Giving Away Council’s Power Can Help

These 22 town homes by Aryze, in Fairfield are currently under construction. They took close to three years to get through the approvals process and a total of five and half years from when the land was purchased to when the families will move in.

As she sanitized the knob of my office door, one of the City’s newest employees, who keeps our offices COVID clean said to me when we met recently, “Nice to meet you; thanks for building the city for the future.”

I was so struck by this because this is exactly what we’ve been doing for the last six and a half years. From the bike network, to the Climate Leadership Plan, to Zero Waste Victoria, to the Accessibility Framework, to Victoria 3.0, to the Witness Reconciliation Program and the Reconciliation Dialogues, and more. We’ve moved Victoria from 20th-century approaches to city building and oriented our city towards the 22nd century.

The one exception is housing and land use. There we’re still very much stuck in the 20th century. And we are very close to a tipping point, in the wrong direction. Unless the City and the Province make some bold moves soon, we will be responsible for creating a low-affordability future where the next generations of families and working people will be priced out of the city. We’ll lose artists, creatives, daycare workers, young professionals. We’ll lose our arts and culture scene. All of Victoria’s cherished strengths will be steadily eroded and undermined.

Whether you’re for or against townhouses being allowed in every neighbourhood, or for or against taller buildings downtown and in Harris Green, I imagine no one would willingly work create to this kind of future. So what can we do?

Single Family Dwellings: So few can afford them, so why are they so easy to build?
Currently, the City’s land use policies and procedures make it easier to build a single family home than any other type of dwelling, even though this is the most expensive form of housing that few people can afford.

Want to knock down a single family home and build a bigger one? No problem. This only needs staff – not Council – approval. And it doesn’t take too long to get the permits needed. Want to build a triplex, or houseplex or townhouses – what’s known as “missing middle housing” – on lots that are currently zoned for single family homes?

  1. Start by holding a Community Association Land Use Committee (CALUC) meeting.
  2. Incorporate the feedback you receive at the CALUC meeting into your plans.
  3. Submit your rezoning application and development permit application to the City.
  4. Staff will then review your application, including an interdepartmental review that usually involves both the Parks and Engineering departments.
  5. Then your application will be sent to a Committee of the Whole meeting for review by Council. If you’re lucky, Council accepts the staff recommendation to move the project forward. But Council always has the prerogative to refer the application back to staff to work with the applicant to make changes. If this happens, go back to step 3; if there are substantive changes, go back to step 1 for another CALUC meeting.
  6. If you get past Committee of the Whole, two weeks later the application is voted on at Council. It could get turned back or turned down here.
  7. If it passes at Council, months are usually needed to prepare all the legal agreements required before proceeding to a public hearing.
  8. Once all the legal agreements are prepared, one more trip to Council before heading to public hearing; that’s at a Council meeting where first and second reading of the bylaws are considered. Council could turn down or turn back the proposal at this point too.
  9. After first and second reading of the bylaws, a public hearing date is scheduled and advertised to the public in the newspaper, as is required by provincial legislation.
  10. At the public hearing, the public gets to share their thoughts and concerns about the project. And then, that night, Council makes a decision.

    This whole process can take often take a year, or more.

Unless there are efforts by the developer to rally support for the proposed new housing – which is often seen as suspect by Council and some members of the public – public hearings are usually mostly attended by people who live in single family dwellings nearby the proposed duplex, houseplex or townhouse who are opposed to the new housing. As the Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply and Affordability put it in their recently released report, “Rezoning can be difficult and amplifies the voices of a few rather than the needs of the community at large.”

Figure 10, Opening Doors: Unlocking housing supply for affordability, Expert Panel Report. Mean MLS price by dwelling type – annualized growth rate 2000-2020.

So we’re making it easiest to build the most expensive form of housing, and we’re pricing people out of our city.

Later this month, City staff will be bringing a report on missing middle housing to Council. They will recommend changes that make it much easier to build the kind of housing that people in Victoria need and can afford. I hope staff recommend taking away Council’s ability to vet these proposals, and delegating the entire process to staff. In short, I hope we start to treat duplexes, houseplexes and town houses just as we currently treat single family homes. I can’t think of a logical reason why we wouldn’t at least try this given that so few working people can afford a million dollar home.

Beyond Single Family Homes: What about housing supply in Victoria more generally?
While the Canada-BC Expert Panel was hard at work, so too were City staff. The recently released, “Victoria’s Housing Future,” report looks at current and future housing needs in our city. When staff presented their report to Council and the public a few weeks ago, one of the City’s housing staff and report authors reminded us that, “We’re planning for people, not just to accommodate growth.”

There is a narrative out there in the public that goes something like: “There’s so much construction and building already changing our city. Why should we welcome more people to Victoria and change our city so much that we don’t recognize it, just to accommodate people who don’t live here yet?”

Starkly, what “Victoria’s Housing Future” reveals is that as of 2016 (the most recent census data and five years out of date), we are between 4500 and 6300 homes short for the people who are already living here. Where are all these people now?

This estimated housing gap of between 4500 and 6300 homes for existing residents is based on these factors. It’s likely a conservative estimate of how much catching up is needed. According to “Victoria’s Housing Future”, “Even if 7000 units were added to the market today, we’d likely still feel some of the same pressures we’re already facing.”

To help out our residents who are already living here in overcrowded, or unaffordable housing, and to help employers who can’t keep workers because they can’t afford to live here, Council should not be allowed to turn down any proposal for new homes that fits within the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP), until we close the 7000 unit gap.

Here’s what the OCP says about Land Management and Development:

“Victoria’s Housing Future” also reveals that even if the OCP is built out to meet the housing need anticipated by 2041, we will still be 20-30% under the number of homes projected to be needed. What this means is that we need to revise the OCP to create more “urban residential” land and less “traditional residential.”

OCP Map 2 from Chapter 6 Land Management and Development.

Traditional residential means:

  • Ground-oriented buildings up to two storeys
  • Ground-oriented buildings up to two and one-half storeys may be considered for certain infill housing types
  • Multi-unit buildings up to three storeys, including attached residential and apartments on arterial and secondary arterial roads
  • Houses with front and rear yards oriented to face the street
  • Variable landscaping and street tree planting
  • Small apartments and local retail stores along arterial and secondary arterial roads and at intersections
  • On-street parking and individual driveways

Urban residential means:

  • Attached and detached buildings up to three storeys
  • Low-rise and mid-rise multi-unit buildings up to approximately six storeys
  • Primary doorways facing the street
  • Front yard landscaping, boulevard and street tree planting
  • On-street parking and collective driveway access to rear yard or underground parking

Shifting more of the city’s limited land base from traditional residential to urban residential doesn’t mean drastically changing the character of our neighbourhoods. It means doing more with our limited land base. And, it means doing this in order to meet not only our housing targets but also our climate goals. If we don’t make more room for housing in the city, what will happen is what is happening – more forests will be destroyed to build housing in the suburbs.

What can we do to make sure there is enough room in Victoria for artists, innovators, families, seniors, the next seven generations?
The Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply makes some good recommendations that the Province should implement immediately. Low hanging fruit includes mandating no public hearings for any buildings that fit within a City’s OCP. The panel also recommends that cities update zoning to match their OCPs and delegate development permits to staff. This means that there will be no political decisions and no public input for new housing on a development by development basis, as long as proposed new homes fit with what the OCP envisions.

While it may feel to some that these changes will cut the public out of the process, what they’re meant to do is a open up a more robust and vision-oriented public dialogue that happens as OCPs and design guidelines are developed and as City-initiated rezonings come forward. This kind of big-picture dialogue isn’t happening through the current public hearing process which pits existing neighbours against future neighbours against Council against developers.

Instead, we could ask questions that require us all to think bigger than whether we are for or against a certain proposal, questions like:

  • How might we enhance Victoria’s character and the neighbourhoods we all love at the same time as making room for current and future residents to have the housing they need at every phase and stage of their lives?
  • How might we protect existing older rental buildings and the affordability that comes with them, at the same time as making the most of the limited land base we have in the city?
  • How might we ensure that as our city grows and has more tall buildings as envisioned in the OCP, we also create more public spaces, green spaces, and enhance biodiversity?

It’s in answering these questions together that we’re going to build a more inclusive, resilient city, a city for everyone, and for the future.

Cautious Optimism for Victoria’s Economic Recovery: Building Back Victoria, by the Numbers

This past week, we turned a corner on COVID-19 as a province. As Dr. Henry laid out our new freedoms in Step 2 of the re-opening plan, she said we may need to go slow moving forward. But she also said – that with more than three-quarters of B.C.’s adult population vaccinated with one dose – we likely won’t have to go backwards.

I felt a huge collective sigh of relief from our small business owners and tourism operators. While everyone has public health and the greater good top of mind, the “circuit breaker”, while necessary, felt like a big step backwards. It was emotionally hard to get through. The past 16 months as a whole have tested the resilience of Victoria’s small businesses. The pandemic has also been hard on our downtown – and downtowns across the country – from the turn towards online shopping, to the challenges of people living outside with untreated mental health and substance use issues.

So how is Victoria’s economy and downtown after more than a year of a global health pandemic? Undoubtedly challenges persist, but based on the numbers, better than you may think.

Working with the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) and other business leaders, we’ve taken a snapshot of February, March and April 2019, 2020 and 2021 so we understand where we were pre-pandemic and can measure our recovery. While there’s still more work to do implementing Victoria 3.0 – our plan for recovery, reinvention and resilience for the long term – there are encouraging signs of downtown’s resurgence beginning to emerge right now.

Let’s start with people driving. In February, March and April 2019, just over a million people parked at on-street meters and in city parkades. In the same months of 2020, that number went down to around 630,000. This year – even with substantial public health restrictions still in place – we were back to around 731,000. Last year’s summer data tells an even better story, and we’ll look forward to seeing the positive trend continue this summer.

The bike data into downtown from the counter at Harbour Road shows a strong year-over-year increase. February to April 2019 saw around 138,000 bikes. This was up to just over 147,000 in 2020. And in the same period in 2021, just over 154,000 bikes were counted. During the pandemic, people have been taking advantage of the safe cycling infrastructure the City has built and making healthy transportation choices to come downtown.

The DVBA’s pedestrian counters tell the most interesting story of all. Not surprisingly with so many people working from home, there are far fewer people walking in the downtown. But still, there is optimism to be gleaned from the data. In April 2021, even with the circuit breaker in place, we saw over 575,000 people counted by the DVBA pedestrian counters throughout the downtown, as compared to close to 445,000 in April 2020.

This is a far cry from the 1.7 million people counted in April 2019. We know where our north star is and that there’s still a lot of work to do to welcome people back to the office, to welcome tourists back to the city and – in addition to the decrease in commercial taxes this year and the Build Back Victoria program – to find ways to continue to support our small businesses through recovery.

Finally, a good measure of the economic health of a city is investor and builder confidence. This is where the numbers show a bright future for Victoria. Pre-pandemic, the building permit values for the months of February to April 2019 totaled just over $53 million. In 2020, amidst all the pandemic uncertainty, we saw a drop to around $47 million. This year from February to April, the value of building permits topped $130 million, more than double pre-pandemic values. Our city planners are run off their feet as we continue to see new applications for both residential and commercial buildings in downtown Victoria.  

After 16 months of pandemic, there’s a pent-up demand for real life. People want to get out, have a meal, gather with friends and family, not leave the pub at 10 p.m., all while staying safe and respecting the health guidelines.

We can now travel within the province, and the City has been working alongside Destination Greater Victoria getting ready to welcome visitors. We’ve done this by adding new public plazas and spaces to gather, new pedestrian-only areas, and cycling infrastructure, for the benefit of locals and visitors alike.

We’ve helped to lay the groundwork for a healthy city and healthy economy. And we’ll continue to work hard in the next months and years to support our small businesses and our community, and to keep the numbers going in the right direction.  

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Is Victoria A Welcoming City?

This booklet outlines the Welcoming Standard against which Victoria will be measuring itself and the goals we are aiming to achieve. It’s very short! Please take the time to read it and share it with everyone you know who might be interested in learning more about Victoria becoming a Welcoming City, or participating in the process.

The first year anniversary of George Floyd’s death is coming up at the end of this month. His murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked international outrage. It brought the Black Lives Matter movement and the existence of systemic racism – everywhere, not only in policing – squarely into the mainstream as an issue that could no longer be ignored.

Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to address systemic inequities and make Victoria more welcoming is an action in both Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and the City’s economic action plan, Victoria 3.0. When the pandemic hit last spring – like much else that wasn’t part of core operations – Council put this project on hold. After George’s Floyd’s death and the response to it in Victoria and around the world, we felt the need to take urgent action.

For background and context, here is an excerpt from the June 9 2020 Committee of the Whole Report from Councillor Dubow and I:

“At the Council meeting on April 9, 2020, Council decided to put on hold a range of initiatives due to budget constraints from COVID-19 and revisit these on August 6th. The Welcoming City Task Force was one of these initiatives.

“Given the recent events in the United States and Canada as well as the well-organized and thoughtful responses of Victorians against racism in all forms and the desire to create a welcoming city for everyone, it is recommended that we proceed immediately with the Welcoming City Task Force. This will enable Council to harness the energy, creativity, passion and commitment currently evident in our community to make Victoria a welcoming and safe city for everyone. 

“The original proposed funding amount for this initiative was $50,000. This included engaging a consultant, in person meeting costs and stipends for Indigenous members of the Task Force as per the City’s protocol and compensation policy. Given that the meetings will all be held online, it is possible to reduce the budget.

“There is approximately $42,800 remaining in the Mayor and Council travel budget for this year, most of which will not be used given travel restrictions and lack of in person conferences. It is recommended that $40,000 be re-allocated to the Welcoming City Initiative.”

Council accepted our recommendation unanimously and a task force was struck.

The Welcoming City Task Force is co-chaired by myself and Councillor Dubow and is made up of people who reflect Victoria’s increasing diverse population. The members have been working hard with consultants and city staff for many months in preparation to launch an extensive public engagement process, which begins this week.

What is a Welcoming City?
The Welcoming Cities program began in the United States in 2009 as a deliberate way to create relationships between long-established residents and newcomers and to help develop a sense of belonging, connection, and community cohesion. Since then, it has grown into a global movement with the founding of Welcoming International and the development of the Welcoming Standard (pictured above). The Standard lays out the keys areas of civic life that need concerted attention and action in order to create inclusive communities:

  • Government Leadership
  • Equitable Access
  • Civic Engagement
  • Connected Communities
  • Education
  • Economic Development
  • Safe Communities

Not all the categories in the Welcoming Standard are within the jurisdiction of local governments. This is why Victoria’s Welcoming City Task Force includes representatives from other organizations like the Greater Victoria Public Library, newcomer serving agencies and Parent Advisory Council reps. The idea is to co-develop and co-deliver the Welcoming City Strategy together with the community.

Why Welcoming Victoria and How to Get Involved
Victoria is a culturally diverse place. According to the 2016 Census, close to 20 percent of Victoria’s population are newcomers, or people who are new immigrants or refugees to Canada who have settled in Victoria. They face significant social and economic barriers to integration into the local community and into Canadian society.  

Creating a Welcoming City Strategy means foregrounding the lived experiences of newcomers, people of colour, Black people and Indigeneous people to help inform the development of the strategy, so it reflects their needs and desires. We know that even on their own homelands, Victoria can be an unwelcoming place to Indigenous people. This needs to change. Important as well are the voices of long-established Victorians who have a role to play in helping to make Victoria welcoming, inclusive and resilient because of our diversity.

Phase one of the engagement begins this week with small workshops for people to share their experiences and needs in each of the Welcoming Standard areas cited above. At the same time, everyone is invited to share their stories between now and May 30th on the City’s Have Your Say platform. Do you feel a sense of welcome and belonging? What would help to make you feel like you belong and are able to flourish in Victoria? The Welcoming City engagement will be up Tuesday so if you go there as soon as you read this post on Sunday evening, you won’t see it yet – please check back later in the week!

The information gleaned in the workshops and on the story portal will be used to generate a community survey that will go live in early June. Whether you’re a newcomer or a long-time resident, please take the time to fill out the survey. You’ll also find it on the City’s Have Your Say platform in June.

The input from public engagement will help to inform the development of a Welcoming City Strategy that will be presented to Council in the fall. Once adopted, the implementation of the Welcoming City Strategy will be led by the City’s newly formed Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

The success of the strategy will be in the quality of the inputs we get during the public engagement period. For those who are new to Victoria and/or racialized minorities who don’t feel welcome here, who experience racism, who need us to do better as a community, thanks in advance for the courage to tell your stories and share your experiences. We can and must do better. For those of us who are non-people of colour, non-Black and non-Indigenous, we have work to do to unpack our privilege and examine our shared role in making Victoria more welcoming.

I thank the hard-working, courageous, and delightful task force for their work to date, and I look forward to the next steps in this important and necessary process.

“Community Making” Requires Housing of All Sorts – Three Big Ideas

Last Thursday, at a public hearing for a proposed new condo building on Rockland Ave near Cook Street, a neighbour spoke to Council in favour of the new housing. He listed all the types of housing in the area: he lives in a townhouse; this new condo building is proposed on the lot next door; Council recently approved a five story rental building nearby on Cook Street; and just this past week the Province announced a new supportive housing building nearby on Meares Street. The neighbour said he supports all of these housing types in his neighbourhood because a diversity of housing is key to good “community making.”

Council voted in favour of the proposal. And, earlier in the evening, Council also supported 34 new townhouses in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood on Washington Street. The townhouses are two, three and four bedroom and are designed to provide homes for families. The past week also saw the Province announce close to 300 new supportive housing units in the region, including 192 in the City of Victoria.

It was a good week for housing in the city – from much-needed missing middle housing like townhouses, to small condos that enable young people to enter the housing market, to housing for people exiting homelessness. But is it enough? And what about the process?

New provincial legislation adopted in 2018 requires that each local government undertake a “Housing Needs Survey” every five years to identify gaps in the housing ecosystem. Victoria’s assessment completed in late 2020 reveals a stark housing shortage and great housing need.

In 2019, the average price for a single family home was $939,066. For a townhouse, $686,849. And for a condo, $501,352. Based on these prices, the average single-detached home and townhouse is unaffordable to any household in Victoria earning the median income. Only condos are affordable for couples with children and other families earning the median income. A household requires an annual income of approximately $105,000 for a condo to be affordable (e.g. spending less than 30% of before-tax household income), and $145,000 annual income for a townhouse.

The median rent in 2019 was $1,150, which would require an annual income of approximately $50,520 to be affordable. Renter households relying on a single income are likely struggle to find affordable and suitable housing in Victoria. Renter households led by lone parents or households with at least one senior are the households most likely to be in core housing need. Being in core housing need means that people are living in housing that is inadequate, unsuitable, and/or currently unaffordable, and that they are unable to afford the median rent of alternative local housing.

The number of units the City’s needs assessment said were needed to meet demand between 2016 and 2020 was 2116. The actual number of building permits issued between 2015 and 2019 was 4516. Ninety-four point six per cent of these were for apartments and condos, 2.9% single family dwellings, 1.5% townhouses and 0.9% duplexes.

So … we doubled the number of units that were projected to be needed, yet here we are in 2021 with a rental vacancy rate hovering around 2 per cent, the cost of rent still increasing, house prices continuing to rise, and three bedroom units – from rentals, to condos to townhouses – suitable for families, almost impossible to come by.

We have a housing supply problem. If we don’t radically increase housing supply in the city in the near term, the results are going to be catastrophic. Some of the people at the public hearing Thursday who spoke in favour of the Washington Street townhouses said they wanted to stay in Victoria, not move out to Langford, but would never be able to afford a single family home here.

When people flee cities for suburban sprawl, the negative side effects include more time stuck in traffic and less time with family, a decrease in overall health outcomes, higher transportation costs, an increase in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss, as forests are cleared for new housing.

And, we also have a process problem. I’ve sat at the Council table for close to ten years and have become increasingly frustrated with how much time it takes to get a development through the process, and by the length of public hearings. The 20-unit Rhodo townhouse project on Fairfield Road took two and a half years to get approved and then a lawsuit to follow challenging the process. Thursday night, we sat in over four hours of public hearings to approve a mere 56 new homes. Our meeting ended at 1:11am. A few weeks ago, it took a three hour public hearing to approve one new small lot home. This is unnecessary process when we have a massive housing shortage on our hands.

Here are three big ideas to avoid catastrophe and make sure that there are enough homes in Victoria for people who want to live and work in Victoria.

  1. Amend the City’s Official Community Plan and rezone the whole city so that any currently-zoned-single-family lot can have up to four units as of right (without a rezoning) and six units as of right if two are below market in perpetuity. The fourplexes and sixplexes would need to adhere to design guidelines that fit with existing neighbourhood contexts. Kelowna has done something similar on a pilot basis through their Infill Challenge and RU7 Zoning.
  2. Get rid of parking minimums so that there are no parking requirements tied to the building of homes. As it stands right now, most city planning polices in North America require a certain number of parking spots to accompany most new residential buildings. Requiring parking adds expense to projects, locks in an unsustainable mode of transportation as the norm, and mandates the use of valuable city land for the storage of cars rather than for the housing of people. Last summer, Edmonton became the first major city in Canada to do this. Victoria should follow.
  3. Change provincial legislation so that any project that fits within a community’s Official Community Plan and respective design guidelines does not require a public hearing. What this means is that there will be an opportunity for public input on Official Community Plan amendments but not on anything that fits within the Official Community Plan. At the same time the Province should create a mechanism to ensure that local governments are still able to receive public amenities in exchange for extra density. I hope that our bright, exceedingly competent, and keen Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Housing will put their heads together and work with local governments to make this necessary legislative change as soon as possible.

These three ideas taken together will drastically increase the supply of housing in our city, help to make housing more affordable by increasing supply (although supply alone will not solve the affordability crisis for those living in poverty), and help to avoid the high costs of suburban sprawl. Implementing these ideas will also lead to better community making as the young man who spoke at the public hearing so eloquently put it.

Victoria Council’s Recent Decisions: A Glimpse Of Post-Pandemic Life In Cities

Proposed “Telus Ocean” office building at Humboldt and Douglas.

I’ve spent the past eight months writing blog posts in response to emails, primarily about homelessness. Each week we’ve received an average of 100 to 150 emails on this topic, many from the same people who write regularly. Of course I love to hear from the public, and to be responsive.

But this past week, another perspective came to light. I realize that I’ve been sucked into a bit of a negative bubble with respect to homelessness. I was almost in tears at Thursday’s public hearing for the Tiny Home village, when we learned that 570 people donated over $500,000 in just over two months to help create homes for their neighbours; I was struck once again by the generosity and goodwill of Victorians. This tells a different story than some of the emails I’ve been receiving, and letters to the editor in the Times Colonist about how Victorians feel towards their fellow community members who are living without homes.

This doesn’t mean that we bury our heads in the sand or ignore the many challenges we need to face. This excellent commentary in the Times Colonist this past week by UVic professor of Canadian history Lynne Marks makes the important point that there is more work to do with regard to discrimination against the poor, and racism, in Victoria. And we still have much work to do on housing with supports for those who are vulnerable.

I also realized that I’ve been continuously in response mode to homelessness in my Sunday blog posts rather than also focusing on all the other issues that Council is working on and initiatives that are happening in the community. So today I’m pivoting to address other issues and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. I do appreciate hearing from you so keep the emails coming! mayor@victoria.ca is the best way to reach me.

Council’s Recent Decisions A Glimpse of Post-Pandemic Life
In a panel discussion earlier this year on creating “15-minute neighbourhoods,” the speakers were asked to predict what post-COVID cities would look like. Two of the panelists made their predictions. A third, leading Canadian urbanist Jennifer Keesmaat, said that we shouldn’t try to predict what post-COVID cities would look like; we should create the cities we know we need and want for an inclusive, prosperous and sustainable future.

Victoria Council made a number of decisions last week that provide a glimpse of what life in cities will look like post-COVID.

People Will Go Back to the Office
There has been much speculation in many circles – from real estate professionals, to commercial property owners, to city planners – about whether the work-from-home culture created by COVID is here to stay. Some elements will certainly remain – more options for remote work and flexible work arrangements. Yet this past week, Council advanced a proposed project at Douglas Street and Humboldt called Telus Ocean to a public hearing. The proposed building would keep the 250 existing Telus jobs downtown and create space for 200 more people.

The fact that a major Canadian company is proposing to invest $100 million in downtown Victoria to build a new, state of the art office building is a strong indication that the physical office is here to stay. And that downtown will continue to be the economic heart of the region.

Telus Ocean still has many hurdles to clear before it ends up at a Thursday evening public hearing. And there are strong feelings about the proposed building, from those who can’t wait to see it built as part of the story of who Victoria is in the 21st century, to those who think the building should fit better into its heritage context and be more subservient to the Empress Hotel.

As required by Provincial legislation, I’ll reserve judgement and wait to see the final proposal at a public hearing. However, in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression when a project comes forward proposing to keep and create jobs downtown, philosophically, I felt it was important to move it forward to a public hearing rather than send it back to staff. This Times Colonist article does a good job of capturing Council’s discussion.

Arts, Culture and Live Events Will Thrive
Many of us who love the big-city arts and culture scene that Victoria offers – despite being a mid-sized city – have missed attending live performances, festivals, and art openings this past year. Artists and the arts organizations that support them pivoted creatively to bring us online content, too varied and extensive to begin to list here!

But arts can’t live only online. Post-pandemic Victoria will experience what one of my friends called, “a pent up demand for real life.” This past week, Victoria Council voted for the City to contribute $40,000 this year and $20,000 per year for the next five years as a founding supporter of a new arts hub at 851 Johnson Street in downtown Victoria. This will be operated by Theatre Skam for the benefit of a wide array of artists and performers.

The plan is for a shared performance hub, managed by artists, for artists. The centrepiece of the space will be a versatile black box performance theatre. A smaller second studio will be used for rehearsals, smaller performances, teaching, and small-scale visual art shows. They envision six offices available to rent by performance companies at below market rates. They’ll have hot desks for artists who need a space to work in an encouraging environment. Other ideas emerging include: a script library, visual artist painting room for rent by the hour, and storage of shared theatre equipment. This hub will help fuel the downtown creative economy.

Council voted unanimously to support this proposal. This sends a strong signal that arts and culture will play a leading role in post-pandemic Victoria. An arts and culture hub is a key action item from Create Victoria, our arts and culture master plan. Having the hub come to life now – out of the embers of the pandemic – will be an important part of feeding our spirits as well as our economic recovery.

More Public Spaces for More People
Near the beginning of the pandemic, when physical distancing was mandated, we watched cities around the world leap into action to make more space for people in public rights of way. In Victoria we created additional pedestrian space in village centres and we began Build Back Victoria, which enabled businesses to expand into city streets.

A year later, we’re seeing some business owners wanting these changes to become permanent. This past week Councillor Loveday and I brought forward a motion responding to petitions from businesses in the 1100 block of Broad Street to permanently close their block to car traffic. Take a look at what the block turned into last summer, you can see why they’d want to do this!

On April 15th, city staff will be bringing a report to Council with further recommendations for Build Back Victoria. I think we can expect to see what worked really well in summer 2020 – with patios and flex spaces popping up around the city, and main streets like Government prioritizing pedestrians – as featured elements of post-COVID life in Victoria, and in cities around the world. There will be more public spaces in cities turned over from the exclusive use of cars to more varied uses for a wider range of people.

Pedestrian priority Government Street in summer 2021.

2021: Here’s to Hope … and Hard Work

In December staff installed the city’s first six on-street electric charging stations on Broad Street.

As we awoke on January 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away. Our economy was one of the strongest in the country; our downtown was thriving. Few of us could have anticipated the toll the pandemic would take on our seniors, health care workers, small businesses, people without homes, governments, on each and every one of us. Most of us have been looking forward to turning the calendar and leaving 2020 behind, hoping for the best in 2021.

Hope is important. But it is not enough to dig us out of the challenging circumstances we’re in. Hope will not get our small businesses through January to March which are likely going to be the most difficult months yet. Hope is not going to create new jobs for those who lost theirs, nor the skills needed to find work in what is quickly becoming a digital and knowledge-based economy. Hope is not going to keep our greenhouse gas emissions in check to mitigate a warming planet. And hope is certainly not going to get everyone who is sheltering in parks inside by the end of March.

Hope is not enough. Hard work is required. And I know that we can work hard as a community because I witnessed it all through 2020. In the early days of the pandemic, I did a Facebook live every day. At the end of each broadcast we reported on some amazing community initiatives. We did over 50 episodes and never ran out of examples.

Early in the pandemic, members of our community created the Rapid Relief Fund and raised $6 million to support those most hard hit. Tech sector businesses quickly offered support to retail and restaurant businesses to digitize as fast as possible. Arts organizations created online content so people had access to arts and culture for their mental health and wellbeing. And many more people leapt into action in big and often small ways, supporting their neighbours, pulling together as a community.

City staff made sure that there was no interruption to essential services like garbage pickup and running water. They also worked at a rapid pace to create Build Back Victoria so local businesses could have patios and more outdoor space for retailing. And they installed electric charging stations, new zero waste bins, more space for pedestrians near village centres and a lot of other small projects to make life better.

Nurses and doctors, transit drivers, grocery store clerks, people working on the front lines in parks and shelters all worked hard, went above and beyond. And they still are.

2020 showed us that we’ve got what it takes to pull through as a community. And that’s a good thing because there’s much work to do in 2021. We need to implement the regional Reboot strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 so those hardest hit economically have an opportunity for a better future and so that our economy is more diverse and resilient to withstand future shocks.

The pandemic has also revealed some of the weaknesses in our social fabric. Another thing that’s going to take hard work and purposeful effort in 2021 is to ensure that as we recover as a community we leave no one behind.

This piece was originally published in the VicNews here.

Zero Waste Victoria: A City Where Nothing Is Wasted

Download and read Zero Waste Victoria to learn what you can do you in your own life to reduce waste, create or seize economic opportunities and be a steward of the products you buy and use.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Discussions about garbage have taken up a lot of space in the Times Colonist Comments section in the past months. Trevor Hancock and Jon O’Riordan outlined the importance of reducing consumption and taking a zero-waste approach. CRD General Manager of Environmental Services, Larisa Hutchinson, laid out some of the very real challenges and limitations the CRD is up against in managing the region’s waste.

While we’re debating waste reduction in our daily paper, our landfill continues to fill up. Despite a 2015 regional ban on food scraps going to landfill, we’re still not adequately sorting compostable food waste from garbage. More than 25,000 tonnes of food waste from around the region still ends up there each year.

And in Victoria alone, pre-pandemic, city workers collected 25,000 single use items like coffee cups and take out containers from public trash cans, every day. And, each year, city workers dump 5.4 million single use items from our home garbage bins. I shudder to think about how this number has increased during COVID-19.

One of the mantras of pandemic recovery is that we have to “build back better.” This also holds true for how we manage our waste. That’s why Victoria Council recently adopted Zero Waste Victoria, a plan written by City staff in consultation with 57 industry and community organizations.

The goal of Zero Waste Victoria is to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill by 50% by 2040 and to put the city on a trajectory to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050.

And the plan sets a clear path to get us there – with 40 actions to tackle single use materials, construction waste, food waste, and durables like our old cellphones or mattresses.

But Zero Waste Victoria – the first municipal plan of its kind in the region – is about much more than garbage. It’s an inspiring vision for a new approach to our economy, our life as a community, and our role as stewards of the products that we buy and use.

We’re all familiar with the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” waste reduction hierarchy. Zero Waste Victoria refines this to “Avoid, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Recycle, Recover, Dispose.”

Zero Waste Victoria is a clear path to creating a city where nothing is wasted. Where reducing, reusing and repurposing materials is the norm and helps our community thrive. Where a circular economy allows innovators to succeed and businesses to flourish. Our community’s culture of sharing and repairing helps us connect with our neighbours. Our homes and places of work are constructed using salvaged and recycled materials, putting less pressure on our valuable natural resources.

In Zero Waste Victoria, no food goes to waste and any scraps are converted into energy and nutrient rich soil. The convenience of take-out doesn’t require disposable single-use products. And celebrations and gifts include meaningful experiences that support local businesses.

If this sounds aspirational, it’s because it is. But at the same time, it’s also possible, practical and fiscally prudent. Adam Corneil is the CEO of Unbuilders, a Vancouver-based business that deconstructs houses and resells the materials. He says that, “There is a huge loss of invaluable old growth lumber, building materials and history when we demolish buildings and treat these materials as waste instead of resources.”

Love Food Hate Waste Canada reports that an average Canadian household throws away $1,100 of edible food each year. That adds up to almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food wasted each year in Canada, at a cost of more than $17 billion, while also contributing to Canada’s GHG emissions. We are literally throwing money in the garbage.

Think making these changes is impossible? It’s not. We just need to bring our habits in line with the values of our community. Until the late-1950s we put all our garbage on a barge and dumped it into the ocean. But then the garbage started to wash up on local beaches and the community noticed. So we don’t do that anymore.

Now if we all don’t change our ways, we’ll need to clear 73 more acres of forest land at Hartland to store our garbage. No one wants this, and the good news is that Zero Waste Victoria outlines a new path forward.

Access to Housing, Central Park, Your ideas, and Everything Else – Mayor’s Sunday Email – November 29 2020

I received a few thank you cards this week. This is one of them. More in the “About Everything Else and Gratitude” section below.

Hello everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week about sheltering in parks and related concerns. To ensure everyone gets a timely answer, I’m responding to you all at once as well as creating a blog post so others have this information as well. If you’d like to stay up to date on sheltering, housing and more, you’re welcome to sign up here.

As always, your emails cover a range of topics. I do my best to address them here in a clear and direct way. I use sub-headings, so you can skip to the section that is of interest to you.

Showers and Community Care Tent
There are those of you who wrote to me this week who think that the City should have left the care tent and the showers in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park intact. And there are others who think we waited too long to remove them. Last weekend, I wrote about this difficult situation. So as not to repeat myself, please take the time to read last week’s post here. I also shared last week that Council recognizes that people need access to showers, hygiene and other social services. That’s why we created an emergency $100,000 grant program to ensure that people’s basic needs are met until everyone moves inside by the end of March. On Thursday Council extended the grant deadline to Tuesday December 1st at 4:30pm. You can find out more here.

Access to Housing
A mother wrote this week letting me know that her son is currently living in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and asked how he can get housing. Anyone who knows someone living in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park or any other park in the city, please let them know the way to get housing is to fill out a BC Housing application. There are outreach workers in the parks every day connecting people with services but most importantly, making sure that everyone living outside has filled out a housing application so that no one is left behind. Flag down a worker. Or go to one of the weekly circles that are held at Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and Central Park.

Access to housing is facilitated by the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) process run by BC Housing, Island Health and the CRD. As vacancies become available, the CAA meets and decides who is the best fit for which housing opportunity based on the needs people living outdoors or in shelters have identified in their applications. There are many people who have been living in 24/7 shelters like My Place or Rock Bay Landing for years. As part of the “positive flow” process from parks to shelter to supportive housing to market housing, some of the people living in My Place, Rock Bay and other shelters will be moving into permanent housing, freeing up these transitional housing spaces for people who are living outside.

Some of you have asked about people coming from outside of our region to get housing, as, for example, the temperatures in Winnipeg begin to drop. While we can’t – and wouldn’t want to – limit people’s constitutional rights of freedom of movement, we have made very clear that our intentional focus between now and the end of March is to take care of people who are currently here. The CAA process is prioritizing people who have been homeless for a long period of time and/or who are vulnerable, and/or who have been living long-term in local shelters. We are also prioritizing Indigenous people who make up 35% of the population of people who are homeless in our region, even though they only make up 3-4% of the general population.

I also received a few angry emails this week from people who are simply tired of having people living in parks. Someone wrote that we should buy one way bus tickets and send people home. This is precisely the issue: in every major city across this country there are people living outside in parks who have no home. I understand everyone’s frustration and anger. I’m frustrated too. We should all be frustrated that in a country as prosperous as Canada, some people are left to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic when we’re told over and over that the best prevention is to stay at home.

Central Park
Some of you have written this past week about the new fencing in Central Park: Why is it there? How long will the fences be up? What does this mean for people who are sheltering in the park and for others in the neighbourhood?

Staff closed the sports fields in Central Park for maintenance to get them ready for community recreation and play as part of the scheduled re-opening of the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre in 2021. Sports fields are bookable by the community and we need time to get them ready for community use. As we have all along during the pandemic, we’re working to balance the needs of those sheltering with the needs of others for outdoor recreation.

It will take several months to remediate the sports fields so they can be used for community recreation and play next spring; the fences will remain in place for that time. Sports fields are already designated as no-shelter areas by the Parks Regulation Bylaw. While 24/7 camping is in place until the end of March, Council created a new four-metre setback around playing fields to keep them clear for recreational activities and maintenance. 

New signage has recently been added to parks where sheltering is permitted, including Central Park, to remind everyone of the rules and where sheltering is allowed. Bylaw officers continue to work closely with people sheltering in parks to remind them of the areas they are allowed to shelter in, and make them aware of services available in the community.

Your Ideas
Some of you have written this week to share your ideas; thanks for doing that. One of you suggested that the Province call in the military to set up barracks in Beacon Hill Park as they did during World War One. Someone else suggested that there are probably hundreds of thousands of travel trailers and older motor homes not in use and of little value and that “this form of housing would be a huge improvement to people with just a tarp over them…imagine heated space with no wind and rain!” Someone else suggested setting up a tiny home village.

My hope is, that the City working together with the Capital Regional District (they hold the purse strings for the federal Reaching Home funding), the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, and shelter organizers we’ll be able to create temporary solutions for people over the winter that are better than living in tents. If this sounds vague, it’s because all the details are still being worked out. I’ll share more when I can. In the meantime, keep your good suggestions coming our way; mayor@victoria.ca is my direct line.

About Everything Else and Gratitude
Last week near the end of the email, I talked about the “everything else” we are working on in addition to ending 24/7 sheltering in parks and getting people inside by the end of March 2021. I thought that each week I’d feature a sample of that work. And, since we’re in the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, I thought I’d start with the work we’re doing on economic recovery and creating an economy for the future.

Victoria 3.0Recovery Reinvention Resilience – 2020-2041 is a long-term plan and vision for a sustainable, influential city that will build a strong innovation ecosystem and create a strong and resilient economy now and for the future. The priorities are to support our small businesses through recovery and also to build a more diverse and inclusive economy so that we will be able to withstand future economic shocks better than we have this one. It’s a really exciting plan and if you’d like some holiday reading to learn more about our wonderful city and its future, you can download the PDF here.

In addition to the City’s recovery plan, I’ve been working to help with regional economic recovery as part of the South Island Prosperity Partnership’s Rising Economy Task Force. We recently released Reboot: Greater Victoria’s Economic Recovery Plan 2020-2022. It’s also an exciting plan that will help people who have lost their jobs to ‘upskill” and get ready for the next economy which we’re seeing emerging through the pandemic – more digital and more knowledge based. The plan was created by over 120 people working hard together since April to help and support all those who make southern Vancouver Island such an amazing place – from farmers, to retailers, to tech workers, to Indigenous communities and more.

I’d also like to tell you about the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub. Creating this Hub is a recommendation coming out of both Victoria 3.0 and the Reboot strategy. I’ve been leading a small group working to develop a business case for the Hub so we can get federal and provincial recovery funding to get it off the ground in early 2021. The Ocean Futures Innovation Hub is a response to input from our region’s marine sector.  The Hub, will be a centre for solving tough challenges and innovation needs faced by our marine industry and will allow companies in Greater Victoria and Pacific Canada to pursue major opportunities in the global ocean and marine space. The vision for the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub is ocean industry transformation for the 22nd century – low-carbon and good jobs.

Finally, the gratitude. Some of you have been receiving and reading my Sunday emails for months now. Some of you have started more recently. I wanted to say thank you. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. And thank you also for taking the time to say thank you. I’ve received a few cards in the mail this past week – yes real cards in the real mail! – thanking me for my work and especially for these emails. One card – signed by a whole family – said they enjoyed reading the Sunday emails each week and that they want to invite me and my family over after I’m finished being mayor to say thank you. These acts of generosity and thoughtfulness touch me deeply and keep me going, especially on the most difficult and stressful days.

With gratitude,

Lisa/Mayor Helps