Category: Affordability, Housing and Homelessness

Affordable Housing: Watershed Moment of Community Support

These are my closing comments from the public hearing for Fire Hall #1 and Affordable Housing.

Something really remarkable happened at our City Council meeting last week. Or rather, it’s what didn’t happen that is remarkable and it gives me hope for the future of affordable housing developments in our city.

Last Thursday we held a public hearing for a new fire hall, 130 units of affordable housing for people living on very low, low, and moderate incomes to be run by Pacifica Housing and three additional market condo buildings. The proposed development borders Yates, Johnson and Cook.

Harris Green project photo
New Fire Hall #1, commercial space and 130 units of affordable housing on Johnson up from Cook.

The Council Chambers were packed. For some, it was a controversial development proposal because of the substantial amount of new density and height proposed on what is now a parking lot and one-story car dealership.

But the remarkable thing is that it wasn’t controversial because of the proposed affordable housing. In fact, it was quite the opposite. From Pacifica tenants, to business people, to students, to neighbours, person after person came up to the microphone and talked about how much needed this affordable housing is and how Council should support it.

It was only about halfway through the hearing that I realized something really special was happening. At every other public hearing we’ve held on new proposed affordable housing developments, there are people who come out and express their opposition precisely because of the affordable housing.

“We don’t need more housing of that kind in this neighbourhood.” “The crime in the neighbourhood is going to go up.” “This is a family neighbourhood.” And once, someone came and insinuated that all poor people are pedophiles and that there shouldn’t be affordable housing overlooking an elementary school. It’s gotten pretty nasty.

But last Thursday there was no discrimination expressed towards low-income people who need housing. Why was it different this time?

It could be because we’re starting to realize as a community that it’s good for everyone if people have the housing they need. There are at least 300 people sleeping outside in our city every night. And this is even with some of the seasonal shelters starting to open.

When people live outside they are vulnerable, get sick more easily, die younger, and have a terrible quality of life – not to mention the stigma and ill-will they face as people walk past them taking down their tents in the morning, or sitting with all their belongings on the sidewalk with nowhere to go. It’s good for all of us if people get the housing they need.

The other thing that was different, as was pointed out by one of the speakers, is the unique three-way partnership between a private sector developer, BC Housing, and Pacifica Housing. The developer is building the building. BC Housing is buying it. And Pacifica will own and operate it. So maybe the fact that all the parties are delivering the project together, based on their own unique expertise makes this different than a non-profit housing provider going it alone.

It was a watershed moment. And I hope we turned a page as a community that evening in terms of how we think about and talk about affordable housing, because there’s a lot more affordable housing to come. The Regional Housing First Program still has 1100 more units to build. The City of Victoria is buying land to partner to build housing. And the provincial government will be rolling out more money for housing in the spring.

All this housing is a good thing. One of the most poignant presenters at the hearing on Thursday was the Housing Placement Coordinator at Pacifica Housing. She told us that there are over 300 people on her wait list, that every day she has to say no to someone, and it’s heartbreaking. “This building,” she said, “is 130 yeses to the people on my wait list.”

Election 2019 Candidates Listening Session: Focus on the Future

 

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“Choose forward.” “Not left. Not right. Forward together.”  “In it for you.” “It’s time for you to get ahead.”

Looking carefully at the slogans of the four main political parties in English Canada, it’s clear that this October’s election is about the future. Thankfully campaigns are about more than slogans. In my experience they’re about three things. First, listening. Second – based on what you hear – creating a shared vision for the future. And third, getting people who support that vision to go to the polls on election day and check your name.

But it begins with listening. This is why the City of Victoria has worked with some of its partners in delivering prosperity – the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Destination Greater Victoria, and the Greater Victoria Harbour – to host a listening session for all candidates today from 5:30-7:30pm at the Victoria Conference Centre. This event is free and open to the public.

I won’t try to top Jack Knox’s insightful piece in yesterday’s Times Colonist. He does a good job outlining the purpose of our event: “Candidates will each get a couple of minutes to speak at the end of the forum, but the real idea is for the would-be members of Parliament to listen, not talk.”

As mayor I don’t endorse candidates or even quietly campaign for any party. What I will be campaigning for in this election is for the future of our city and our region. I’ll be highlighting priorities shared by our residents and business community about how to create good jobs, good homes and a sustainable community. These priorities – affordable housing, childcare, transportation, climate change, reconciliation and the labour shortage – will be laid before the candidates tonight. They are key to ensuring an inclusive, affordable and prosperous future for our city and for our region.

Please take the time to read through the details. There’s great background information here put together by the partners hosting tonight’s event as well as clear recommendations for the candidates.

Affordable Housing
Greater Victoria has a shortage of affordable housing – for both rental housing and
home ownership. This is an issue that affects Greater Victorians’ ability to find a place to live, as well as the continued growth of the regional economy. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,406.00, with rent increases outpacing wage increases. The Greater Victoria vacancy rate is 1.2%, which means many families are struggling to find adequate housing.

Greater Victoria has one of the highest benchmark prices for home sales in Canada. As of April 2019, the benchmark price for a home sale was $690,000. Rental housing and home ownership are out of reach for many residents.

The City of Victoria and Capital Regional District (CRD) are tackling the affordable housing crisis. Some of the initiatives are partnerships with other levels of government. For example, the CRD, Province and federal government are funding the Regional Housing First Program, which provides housing to those experiencing homelessness and are ready to live independently with ongoing supports as well as for working people.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Continue to implement the National Housing Strategy. The budget for this program could be expanded in order to encourage partnerships with local governments and non-profit housing providers.
  • Create tax incentives to encourage private sector investment in the construction and operation of purpose-built rental housing stock.
  • Expand the support of culturally appropriate indigenous housing options.
  • Accelerate funding for the 2017 National Strategy to End Homelessness from a 10-year roll-out to a 5-year roll-out. This strategy should continue to adopt a “housing-first approach” and offer support to those that need it. Efforts must include work to
    destigmatize mental health and addictions, as well as better integrate prevention,
    treatment and recovery options.

Child Care
The 2016 Canada Census data reveals a gap between Greater Victoria’s regional population of children and number of child care spaces. The most acute gap is for infants and toddlers where there is roughly one licensed child care space for every eight children. This gap is also likely to expand. Between 2011 and 2016 Greater Victoria’s population of 25 to 39 year-olds grew by 9%, while the population of children under 11 also grew at the same rate. According to the Province of BC, there are licensed child care spaces for 18% of children aged 0-12 in the province.

A deficiency of affordable, high-quality child care spaces in Greater Victoria is having a direct impact on employers and workers. Workers are reducing their hours and modifying their shifts to compensate for the lack of child care. This is adding to the shortage of labour at a time when Greater have the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

A shortage of early childhood educators contributes (ECEs) to the lack of licensed spaces. Child care operators can only offer as many spaces as they can staff. According to Child Care Resource Centre BC, average wages for ECEs as of April, 2018, are $14.00 for a worker to $26.00 for a manager. In a labour market where there are opportunities for higher wages with similar education and experience, it is difficult to attract people to careers as ECEs.

The Province is investing a billion dollars from 2018 to 2020 in wage enhancements for workers, and fee reductions for parents, including a pilot project for $10 a day child care, and capital investments. The federal contribution to child care in BC is only $153 million over the same three years – 15% as much.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • The federal Government should enable working parents to contribute to
    Greater Victoria’s regional economy by matching the level of investment in child care being made by the BC government.

Transportation
Greater Victoria has traffic congestion issues caused by several factors, including
a reliance on automobile traffic and geographic constraints related to its location on an island. Greater Victoria’s population is forecasted to grow, resulting in increased emissions from vehicles idling in traffic unless further investments are made.

The Province of BC is committed to transitioning to electric vehicles for private and commercial use. Greater Victoria can take the lead in spearheading this transformation. The federal government can also play a role reducing emissions in Greater Victoria by continuing to fund projects such as the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, as well as incentives for businesses and individuals to make the transition to alternative forms of transportation.

Greater Victoria is also positioning itself to develop a smart cities and civic technologies cluster, focusing on areas that align with local academic/research priorities, Province of BC priorities (through the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology’s Innovation Framework), and the Federal Government (through the priorities of Western Economic Diversification Canada and Canada’s Digital Supercluster).

Examples of these technologies could include (but not limited to): Internet of Things (sensors and data management), various application of Artificial Intelligence within
infrastructure to aid decision-making and responsiveness, Blockchain applications to address data security and land management, citizen participatory and response applications (smart wayfinding, technologies that aid citizens with special needs or with aging in place, and emergency response).

The majority of infrastructure management responsibility falls on municipal and First Nations governments. However, they lack the resources to go beyond basic maintenance and upkeep, and rarely move into deploying technological solutions that make infrastructure management more effective and responsive. Infrastructure Canada currently does not have any programs that aid in the capacity-building of modern infrastructure management solutions.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Through the Standards Council of Canada, align manufacturers of electric vehicles on a common electric charging technology
  • Provide incentives for the electrification of commercial fleets including ferries, buses, trucks and couriers
  • Expand the number of electric vehicles charging stations in Greater Victoria and across Vancouver Island
  • Work with municipalities and First Nations in Greater Victoria to support a civic
    technology cluster strategy that will develop a best practice model of how municipalities and First Nations can better test, purchase and deploy new technologies

Climate Change
In October 2018 the scientists of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report giving the global community until 2030 to significantly reduce carbon pollution and to become carbon free by 2050. Cities account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. And by 2050, well over half of the world’s population will live in cities. In April 2019, Environment and Climate Change Canada released a scientific report that shows Canada is warming at twice the global average.

Cities in Canada are already starting to feel the effects of climate change and facing the fiscal consequences. Here in Victoria we are seeing more severe winter storms and hotter, drier summers. Seventy percent of public street trees that have been removed in the past few years have been removed because of disease and stress due to climate change.

Our Inner Harbour, a central feature of our downtown, is the point of arrival for many tourists and a source of pride for our residents. For this business and tourism district, higher sea-levels, especially when combined with storm-surge events, will mean huge economic cost.  It has been estimated that one metre of sea level rise in combination with a storm surge would result potential business disruption losses of Cdn $415,557 per day (based on annual averages).

Climate change mitigation and adaptation costs to cities are only expected to escalate in the coming decades across the country.

Despite the increased risks and costs that cities are already feeling and will continue to face, cities in Canada have had essentially the same funding formula since 1867. Cities receive approximately 8 cents of every tax dollar and the only means of revenue raising that cities have are property taxes, utility fees, and parking revenue. With the downloading of services to cities from senior levels of government over the past 150 years without any devolution of revenue-raising capacity, or predictable means of funding, cities are already pushed to the limit of their fiscal capacity. Mitigating and adapting to climate change has the potential to further tax cities fiscally with no way to offset these costs other than through property taxes

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Take an integrated, whole-of-government and multi-level government approach to climate action based on effective partnership between different levels of government and across sector silos
  • Develop a new fiscal formula that will enable cities to both mitigate and adapt to a changing climate
  • Formula should include predictable sources of funding tied to clear outcomes and / or a permanent increase of gas tax funding
  • Require cities to have climate action plans that detail how a local government will help the federal government to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) agreed to through the Paris Agreement and provide funding to develop these plans
  • Encourage provincial governments to give cities more authority to deal with climate change including but not limited to making loans to business owners and homeowners for retrofits and collecting repayment through savings on utility bills; the potential to incentivize reduction in carbon pollution through business licence fees, the potential to explore congestion pricing; other powers that give local governments the ability to mitigate climate change that fit into the current sphere of influence – but not currently sphere of authority – of cities.


Reconciliation
There are nine indigenous nations residing in Greater Victoria. These indigenous nations have unique histories, cultures and economies.  There has been progress towards reconciliation and local indigenous nations have demonstrated a cultural and economic resurgence, but inequality, inadequate housing and social services, and limited economic development persist as obstacles to achieving full reconciliation.

Various levels of government have committed to reconciliation with indigenous nations. The provincial government has committed to a broad range of actions, program and recognition ceremonies. The Capital Regional District (CRD) has reinvigorated its Indigenous Relations Division – building relationships and proposing a governance structure that incorporates indigenous nations. The City of Victoria works with the Esquimalt and Songhees Peoples through the Witness Reconciliation Program, bringing together indigenous and non-indigenous representatives to bring forward ideas and propose actions for realizing reconciliation.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Allocate funding targeted to affordable housing on indigenous lands.
  • Change federal legislation to enable greater economic autonomy for indigenous nations, including incentives for non-indigenous businesses to partner with indigenous nations, and changes to the criminal code to allow more indigenous-owned gaming establishments on indigenous lands.
  • Develop training on indigenous history and rights for all public servants, with an emphasis on local indigenous history relevant to each federal government staff location
  • Fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
  • Establish and support a national council for reconciliation. This would include local/regional indigenous elder advisors as an oversight body to reporting on federal government reconciliation progress.

Labour Shortage
As of April 2019, Greater Victoria had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada at 2.8 per cent. This is well below the national average of 5.9 per cent. A recent labour outlook study released by the Province shows there will be 903,000 job openings between 2018 and 2028 province wide, including the creation of 288,000 new jobs due to economic growth. The portion of these openings on Vancouver Island is 17 per cent, or 153,820 openings.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Increase the number of immigrants selected for economic factors.
  • Ensure the immigration system is client-oriented and services are delivered as
    efficiently as possible. Coordination with provinces is important in delivering support programs.
  • Expand temporary foreign workers (TFW) programs to fill labour market gaps as a short term solution, but also with the objective that immigrants can utilize this program as a pathway to permanency
  • Improve foreign credential recognition, access to language training, settlement services and opportunities to gain meaningful work experience.
  • Greater Victoria has thousands of international students. By expanding work experience and co-op programs to include terms after graduation, there can be connection and integration into the regional workforce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria is a City that Looks to the Future

This blog post is short. The real meat is in this video. Please watch it!

Last Thursday evening, City Council held a public hearing for a 20-unit townhouse development at 1712 and 1720 Fairfield Road. Many people who live in the neighbourhood spoke with Council and shared their perspectives on the project. While more people were in favour than against, it was not only the opinions of the people who came out to speak that I considered when making my decision, but also what kind of city we want to be.

I believe that Victoria needs to be a city that looks to the future, readies itself for the future and builds for the future. In order to do this, we need to make sure that there’s housing for all. As you can see from the changing skyline in the downtown, there are lots of rental and condo buildings under construction, but what’s missing is the “missing middle.”

Missing middle housing is everything between single family housing and high-rises. It includes townhouses, row houses, multiplexes, garden suites, co-housing and probably more. Missing middle housing isn’t just an issue in Victoria, it’s a North America wide phenomenon.

As we learned at the public hearing from project proponent Luke Mari of Aryze Developments, less than five per cent of the city’s housing is townhouses. And in the Gonzales neighbourhood where his development was proposed, less than 0.8% of homes are townhouses, even though the neighbourhood accounts for nine per cent of the City’s land base.

Those are the facts. But it’s the stories beyond the facts that we need to listen to to shape the future of our city. We heard that night from people who were making enough money to buy a townhouse but simply couldn’t find one. So they’re renting and taking up a rental unit that someone who can’t afford to buy a home could move into. We heard stories of people leaving the city for the suburbs because their families are growing and they can’t find homes with enough bedrooms. And most moving of all, were the stories of parents whose children are leaving the region altogether and won’t be able to come over for Sunday dinner anymore.

As I said that night, I believe that Victoria is a place where everyone deserves a good job, a good home, and a sustainable community. The way we’ve been building the city – and the way cities across North America have been built for the past 100 years – is not sustainable. I’m so proud of Council for approving these 20 townhouses and signalling that we are a city – and that we are a Council – who looks to the future.

If you’d like to watch the full hearing and listen to the public and councillor comments, please head here and click on item F3.

For those who want to dig in more deeply, here’s a great article on exclusionary zoning and the need for missing middle housing in Seattle.

 

Ambrose Place: Love and Decolonizing Housing, Health and Wellness

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I had an incredible experience earlier this week that I’m really excited to share. I was in a situation where I was expecting one thing and something completely different happened. In the space between expectation and experience, there was inspiration, love and great deal of learning.

I was invited by Fran Hunt-Jinnochi, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, to tour Ambrose Place in Edmonton. She invited a dozen of us from Vancouver Island to join her to learn about the Indigenous-informed, culturally supportive housing site which includes a managed alcohol program. She wants to start a similar program on Vancouver Island, hopefully in the capital region, and she invited us to learn and to witness.

I was expecting a conventional facility tour and a series of PowerPoint presentations with governance models and funding charts. Instead, we began on Monday evening in circle with a local elder. He shared his songs with us and spoke for three hours about the importance of connection to one’s own spirit. “Human and spirit,” he said over again in many different ways as the sage burned and the day faded to night.

Tuesday, we learned about love and how a decolonizing approach to “harm reduction” works. Carola Cunningham, the CEO and founder of Ambrose Place said about the residents, “We just keep loving them. We’re all related.” Her staff who were there to share their experiences, echoed this. A staff member shared a story of a resident who told her that he was almost 50 years old and no one had ever told him they loved him. So now every day, at the end of their one-on-one meeting she says, “I love you.”

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Another staff member recounted her experience working at a hospital before coming to Ambrose Place. “The thing I love about working here is that we love our residents. When I worked at the hospital you weren’t allowed to love your patients. Here we are allowed to love them.” Another staff member told us that when she started working at Ambrose Place she had to get used to residents hugging her.

This tenderness, this Indigenous-centred, love-based approach continues through to end-of-life care. Ambrose Place was not originally set up for palliative care. Early on, one of the residents very close to death had gone to the hospital. He wanted to come home to die but they weren’t prepared. After he passed, Carola was determined that people should be able to die at home. And – just like much else that happens at Ambrose place – Carola made it so. “Now we do palliative care,” she said. “And we love people through to the spirit world.”

“In the regular system, at the hospital,” one of the staff members said, “when there’s a death and you cry, you’re seen as weak. Here we’re told, ‘Cry, let it out, tears are medicine.’ We accept our residents where they’re at. As staff we’re also accepted where we’re at.”

The longer people stay at Ambrose place, the more opportunity they have for sobriety, the closer their trauma comes to the surface. The residents work through their trauma in ceremony, in circle, and with an “Elders Review” – a practice where they walk through their lives chronologically with an elder and decide which parts they are ready to work on. What’s truly moving is that the trauma work doesn’t stop with the residents. Carola has created a social enterprise catering service and she uses the money to reinvest in trauma support for her staff.

Ambrose Place is remarkable. And it’s working. As it turns out, love and a decolonizing approach are saving the Alberta government a lot of money. In the first two years they were open, they saved $7 million in health care costs. Their residents have reduced their hospital days by about 90%. There has been a significant decrease in mental health and addictions emergency room visits. And this takes only health care into consideration. There’s currently a study underway to quantify the savings in policing and the justice system.

Niginan Housing Ventures, which runs Ambrose Place, has big plans for what’s next. Ninety-three percent of kids in care in Alberta are Indigenous. So Niginan is going to create a building for kids and parents together. Instead of removing the kids from their parents, they’ll remove the parents – but only to another part of the building. They’ll have “kookums” (grandmothers) and elders around to care for and love the children as well. By keeping everyone under one roof, they’ll ensure that the kids stay connected to their parents until the parents are ready to move back into a suite with their children.

A disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness in Victoria are Indigenous. A disproportionate number of Indigenous children are in care in this country. Conventional approaches are not working to address these issues and are likely just making them worse. My key takeaway ­– and my reflection to the group in our closing circle – is that the decolonizing practices and loving ways of Ambrose Place have the power to transform the whole health and housing system, if only we are open to new ways of knowing.

 

Affordable Housing: The Missing Middle

Screenshot 2019-03-12 11.19.37.pngHousing is only part of the story. We also need to consider how the built form of the city  supports community well-being and economic vitality.

I recently received a good, old-fashioned, hand-written letter from a resident suggesting that I write an editorial focused on the City’s current housing initiatives. It’s a welcome suggestion, and, in light of Victoria’s first annual Housing Summit held yesterday, a timely one too.

Housing is one of the biggest issues facing our community and our local economy right now. From young families to seniors, finding appropriate, affordable housing to rent or own is difficult. And with the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.2%, businesses need workers and workers need housing. This is becoming a familiar and well-worn story. And it’s why City Council has made affordable housing a key priority in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan with a heavy focus on housing in 2019 and 2020.

It’s also why over 150 housing stakeholders gathered for a full day for a Housing Summit. A diversity of people including renters advocates, developers, non-profit housing providers, policy experts, neighbourhood organizations and members of faith communities came together to provide input to update the City’s Housing Strategy.

Developed in 2015 out of the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, much of the 2015-2026 Housing Strategy was implemented last term. Working with the community, Council and staff tackled 25 actions that were relatively easy, low-hanging fruit in order to increase housing supply and housing diversity, and build awareness including:

  • Creating a standard minimum unit size
  • Updating the Victoria Housing Reserve Fund to grant $10,000 per bedroom (rather than $10,000 per unit) to encourage family sized units and to tie the fund to the housing targets identified in the Housing Strategy
  • Prioritizing non-market housing during permit approval processes, with highest priority going to non-profit housing developments
  • Delegating approvals and application fee waivers for certain development applications
  • Developing a bonus density policy to leverage development to create affordable housing
  • Updating the garden suite policy and guidelines to remove the rezoning requirement and move to a delegated development permit approval process
  • Removing several zoning rules regulating secondary suites that were hindering their development
  • Launching a Market Rental and Revitalization study where we:
    – Completed an inventory of the existing market rental stock in the City of Victoria
    – Developed a pilot program to incentivize energy efficiency and seismic upgrades to this older stock
    – Improved protections for tenants through the implementation of a Tenant Assistance Policy to provide compensation and support for tenants who become displaced due to redevelopment, and through a Standards of Maintenance Bylaw to improve living conditions inside dwelling units (targeted for adoption this spring)

This term we will do a lot more. For a full list of proposed housing initiatives please read the Strategic Plan Objective #3. I’ll be writing affordable housing blog posts throughout the year to keep you up to date as we move forward. Topics will range from tiny homes to intergenerational living, beginning today with “missing middle” housing.

Missing Middle Housing

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The city continues to grow and young families want to continue to call it home but they’re having a hard time. Victoria continues to lose people as they enter their 30s.

Screenshot 2019-03-12 16.57.20.pngThat’s why we need forms of housing like townhouses, houseplexes, multiplexes and more that are attainable, as single family home-ownership remains out of reach for many.

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We’ll begin in 2019 with a city-wide planning exercise to identify suitable locations across the city for townhouses, housplexes and other forms of missing middle housing. In 2020 we’ll consider a comprehensive amendment to the City’s Zoning Bylaw to permit all missing middle housing forms as a right without the need for a rezoning or a development permit. We may not go as far as the City of Minneapolis did in eliminating single family zoning. But we need to make our great neighbourhoods more accessible for more people while maintaining the character that makes them so special.

The challenges to be addressed in creating more missing middle infill housing include maintaining greenspace and the urban forest, affordability, transportation, neighbourhood character, a sense of fear that comes from the perception of loss, and worries about the pace of change.

The City is changing. And the world is changing. More people are living in cities and cities are becoming more populous. Victoria is no exception. We could change by default and be in a place of reaction as these trends continue. But the Victoria Housing Summit and the updated Housing Strategy will allow us instead to change by design and be proactive to meet the challenges ahead.

Keep up to date on progress at www.victoria.ca/housing.

 

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Elderly Artist Couple, One With MS, Lose Affordable Housing After 38 Years

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Gonzales Bay Revisited
Original painting by Barbara Weaver-Bosson. Copyright 1995 to 2019. All rights reserved.

City Council is in the process of developing the City’s 2019 budget. This year we’re putting $1 million into our Affordable Housing Trust Fund, up from $250,000 in previous years. And we’re hiring new housing planners. And we’ve asked staff to re-organize the Planning Department to have a section of the department specifically focused on the creation of affordable rental housing.

And we’re in the process of developing an inclusionary housing policy so we can get new housing units or cash-in-lieu when new condos are being built. And there’s more money than ever before flowing from the Provincial government for housing – earlier this year the Province announced funding for 588 units of affordable housing in the City of Victoria alone.

All of these new programs and initiatives are great. But it’s going to take time to get all the housing built. In the meantime, there are so many people in our community struggling with housing insecurity, homelessness, and rents that take up far too much of their paycheques.

Too often the realities of housing are shared as statistics, vacancy rates, or average rents. In a talk she gave at a Bridges for Women event in Victoria, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell said, “The story is the unit of human understanding.” I offer this space for Barbara and Victor to share their story.

Barbara and Victor’s Story, In Their Own Words

Just a short time ago Victor Bosson and I were served notice to vacate our Fairfield home and art studio of 38 years. Our dear friend Alan, who was our landlord, unexpectedly died. Alan loved the arts and for over 35 years kept our rent affordable.

We cannot thank him enough for his contribution which made it possible for us to continue to strive as artists. When Victor’s health and MS challenges progressed through the years, Alan wholeheartedly accommodated Victor’s accessibility needs in our home.

Unfortunately for Victor and I, the family member who inherited Alan’s property does not understand our crisis and that wheelchair accessible, affordable homes are not available to us at our income level.

Vic and I are now actively searching for an affordable two-bedroom wheelchair accessible home with a workspace/storage space and parking.

We have just started to look into subsidized B.C. Housing and were told on the phone that the waiting list is up two to three years for a wheelchair accessible one-bedroom apartment.

About Us

If you have not been aware of us in the Victoria art community, among the many artistic awards and accomplishments, Victor notably in 1998 was nominated for Canada’s highest honour, the Governor General’s Award for his illustrations for The Fox’s Kettle children’s book by Laura Langston.

I am well known for my Victoria Neighbourhood Series. For over 35 years my expansive Victoria painting series have detailed and documented the architectural character and rooftop views of many seaside neighbourhoods and harbour areas.

Many of our art works are in private and public collections worldwide. As Victor and I have gained a significant profile in Victoria’s Arts Community, we hope to continue to live in this fine city.

Our Specific Housing Requirements

As Vic has MS, we will need a wheelchair accessible home with parking. We are looking for a bright and very private two-bedroom home that is wheelchair accessible. The living space should be rated as sound proof. If there happens to be a few stairs leading into the house, we are willing to look at putting in a lift or ramp for easy access into or around the home. We also require a heated garage, workshop or an extra room for our studio or storage space.

Affordable Monthly Rent

Affordable living and work space for artists is scarce.

Our maximum budget for before utilities are factored in is $ 950 per month. Our maximum budget with all utilities included is $1200 per month.

Victor and I are quiet, non smokers and are proven long term tenants. The property owner who accepts our application, will be assured we will love and care for our new home like it is our very own.

Word of Mouth

Vic and I thank you for sharing our letter and our very specific housing requirements with your friends and colleagues. We are optimistic that Victoria can find a solution for us and many others who are searching for affordable homes.

Many thanks,
Barbara Weaver-Bosson and Victor Bosson

Portrait of Barbara Weaver-Bosson and Victor Bosson 2015

Please contact Barbara Weaver-Bosson
weaverbosson@shaw.ca
250-385-3761

300 New Affordable Childcare Spaces Coming to Victoria

Today, the Helps Campaign is announcing the creation of at least 300 new affordable childcare spaces in neighbourhoods across Victoria. Working with non-profit childcare providers, School District 61, and Island Health, a funding application has been submitted to the Province to fund the creation of new childcare spaces in Victoria starting in 2019.

This announcement comes after 18 months of work with an informal Childcare Solutions Working Group, led by Mayor Helps. In mid-2017, non-profit childcare providers working out of city-owned facilities came to the Mayor asking for help to create more childcare spaces. In response, Mayor Helps gathered Island Health, the provincial government, School District 61, the Chamber of Commerce and the childcare providers around one table.

Together, they developed a plan to be ready for the anticipated announcement of childcare funding in the 2018 Provincial budget.  

“We’ve worked hard together to put an initial plan to address the concern we’ve heard over and over from both parents and employers that access to affordable, high-quality childcare is a key priority for keeping life liveable in Victoria,” said Mayor Helps. “This application to the Province for 300 new spaces is a good start. We also need to develop a Childcare Solutions Action Plan so we can anticipate future demand and develop a plan to meet it.”

Last year, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce raised childcare as a key issue for its members. In Business Matters magazine, CEO Catherine Holt wrote, “The lack of affordable, government-regulated childcare spaces is having a direct impact on workers, families and our economy […] Childcare is a fundamental workforce requirement. But right now there is inadequate space and staff and it is too expensive for a working family.”

The plan for the 300 spaces is to work with School District 61 to provide modular learning units on school properties throughout the city. This will create ease for parents with a child in daycare and a child in school by creating one drop-off spot rather than two. It will also make an easier transition for young children from daycare to school.

Subject to Provincial funding, the plan is as follows:

  • Vic West Elementary School –  2019, Two units plus the gym divider (32 + 25 = 57). It could hold up to 75 new spaces depending on programming.
  • Fairfield Sir James Douglas – 2019/2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • Fernwood – George Jay – 2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • Oaklands – 2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • South Park – 2021, One unit (16 – 20  young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • James Bay – 2021, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.

Two Key Platform Commitments

Since January Lisa’s been working with a diversity of community members to develop a detailed, future-focussed, community-based, four-year plan. Today, we’re releasing the first two of many platform commitments that will help to make Victoria safe, affordable, and prosperous.

Two Key Platform Commitments

Working with the community and Council, Mayor Helps will:

  1. Lower the default speed limit on all local neighbourhood streets from 50km/h to 30km/h and tactically enforce the new rules.
  2. Expand the city’s garden suite program to allow for larger, family-sized units on any of the 5,600 eligible plus-size lots.

Lowering Default Speed Limit on Residential Neighbourhood Side Streets

For the last two months, Lisa has been meeting with small groups of Victoria residents in their homes in neighbourhoods across the city. These “Kitchen Table Talks,” are hosted by local residents. Neighbours, friends, family, and from around the community are invited to attend and participate in a casual Q & A with Lisa. This direct engagement with the people of Victoria generated many insightful and collaborative solutions to make life in Victoria even better. One key recommendation that came up at almost every gathering was: make our local neighbourhood streets safe for our children!

Currently, the default speed limit on all city streets is 50 km/h unless otherwise listed. This is far too fast. Residential streets are on average far narrower than throughways, often have limited visibility due to street-parked cars and tree cover, and are frequently the site of play for school-aged children.

For these reasons, Mayor Lisa Helps will work collaboratively with City Council, School District SD61, the Provincial Government, the Greater Victoria Integrated Road Safety Unit, and community stakeholders to implement a default speed limit of 30km/h on all local neighbourhood streets. This change would be facilitated by a comprehensive education campaign and tactical enforcement.

This commitment of Lisa’s, like many others, is citizen-led. Many families with whom we spoke were already in the process of working with the city for a lower speed limit on their residential street. Many were already in the process of applying to the City’s “My Great Neighbourhood” grant program to fund “children playing” signs, new speed bumps, and other measures to keep their children safe.

To be clear, this new speed limit would only apply to local neighbourhood side streets, those classified as “local streets” in the City’s road classification system. For more information on the distinction between urban street designations and how they apply to roads safety, please hear here.

This commitment represents a core theme of Lisa’s platform: the actions we take now not only benefit the people currently living in Victoria but they also plan ahead to build a safe, sustainable city for the future — for our children and our children’s children.

Making decisions with the next 10, 20, or 50 years in mind does not mean we need to forego quality of life and well-being now. Rather, the present and the future work in tandem. Victoria’s residents have asked for this now and we will implement it as soon as possible. At the same time, this action will make Victoria’s streets safer for children for generations to come.

Allowing Family-Sized Garden Suites on Victoria’s 5,600 Plus-Size Lots

When Lisa was first elected Mayor of Victoria in 2014, she immediately recognized the great need for new homes in our city. With a rapidly retiring workforce and quickly expanding job market, the city’s previous inaction left the city’s housing market in a precarious position. Families and workers need homes, and housing costs have continued to rise while demand outpaces supply.

At the same time – as we heard loud and clear at kitchen tables around the city – protecting the character of Victoria’s neighbourhoods is of the utmost importance. It’s important to maintain what’s special and unique about Victoria’s neighbourhoods as the city grows.

After Council cut significant red tape from the City’s garden suite process making the approval process significantly quicker (4 weeks instead of one year) and cheaper ($200 instead of $4000), the number of garden suites under development increased rapidly. 22 garden suite units were approved last year alone, compared to only 18 units approved in the last 12 years combined.

Lisa has recognized the effectiveness of this low-impact, citizen-initiated development. There is room for significant growth in this program to accommodate the growing number of young families in Victoria. There are roughly 5600 plus size lots in Victoria that are eligible for garden suite development. Currently, garden suites are restricted to one-bedroom designation, but with Lisa’s proposed changes to the zoning process, plus-size lots would be eligible for multi-bedroom garden suites for families.

Wesley MacInnis
Communications Director
Lisa Helps for Victoria Mayor 2018
wesley@lisahelpsvictoria.ca

What is affordable housing in Victoria?

Wilsons_Walk_8262_Small_Web.jpg
Pacifica Housing’s Wilson’s Walk mixed income housing in Victoria West.

Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges in Victoria. We hear regularly from the business community that attracting workers is a challenge because of the housing shortage. We hear from people living in units that are being redeveloped, worried about not being able to find another place within their price range. And we know people on income assistance only get $375 per month for housing.

An even greater challenge is defining what affordable means. The word is tossed around by citizens, the development community and Council as if we’re all speaking a common language. Until we clearly define affordable housing and agree on how many units we need and at what rent we need them to address the problem, we’ll be aiming in the dark.

In order to find our way out of the dark, two important shifts in thinking are required. First, we must stop thinking of affordability only as housing affordability. Second, we must address the fact that increased supply alone won’t solve the problem for those living on the lowest incomes.

The accepted wisdom from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and BC Housing is that no one should pay more than 30% of household income on housing. Yet the “Housing and Transportation Affordability Index” developed by Brookings Institute researchers demonstrates that it’s more complex than this.

This index is groundbreaking because, according to the researchers “it prices the trade-offs that households make between housing and transportation costs and the savings that derive from living in communities that are near shopping, schools, and work, and that boast a transit-rich environment.” As noted by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, “A cheap house is not truly affordable if located in an isolated area with high transport costs, and households can rationally spend somewhat more than 30% of their budget for a house in an accessible location where their transportation costs are lower.”

Emerging from this research is a new affordability standard that no household should spend more than 45% of their household income on housing and transportation combined. What this means is that, for example, if you live in Fairfield and walk or bike downtown to work, you have less transportation costs and could potentially spend more on housing. Data gathered as part of the Smart South Island submission to the Federal Smart Cities challenge shows that people living in Sooke spend on average 14.5% of household income on transportation; Fairfield households spend on average 9.5%.

With much of the development happening in Victoria concentrated along major corridors, within walking or biking distance of major employment centres, and with a safe cycling network underway, we’re building a city where – in the not so distant future ­– transportation costs will be even further reduced.

Yet even with transportation savings factored in from living in smart compact communities like Victoria’s downtown and neighbourhoods, increased supply alone won’t provide housing for households in the city that make less than the median income.

According to 2016 census, the median after tax income for a household in the City of Victoria is $46,804. Approximately 21,905 households make less than this. For one person households the median after tax income is $31,570 and for two people, $68,325. There are 14,910 households that earn less than $35,000 per year and cannot afford to rent anything at current market rates.

How do we address this? Create, attract and retain household sustaining jobs to raise median household incomes. Ensure – through the $90 million Regional Housing First Program, other government funding and an inclusionary housing policy – that by 2026 in Victoria we have the units we need. This includes at least 800 new units for households who live on less than $30,000, with rents between approximately $500 to $875. It also includes at least 450 units for families that live on less than $50,000, with rents between approximately $875 and $1375. These are the clear targets laid out in the Victoria Housing Strategy. This is what we need to aim for.

It’s only in adjusting our thinking about affordability to include transportation and housing location, and finding creative ways to deliver the supply that the market can’t that we will build the city we all want: a Victoria where people live close to work, school, shopping and recreation and where people are free from the stress of housing insecurity.

This piece was originally printed in the Times Colonist here.

 

Neighbourhoods are for everyone

Screenshot 2018-06-01 23.15.30.pngAffordable Sustainable Housing (ASH) concept developed by Fairfield resident Gene Miller.

In the Gonzales neighbourhood, posters are popping up on poles with a picture of a single family home about to be demolished by an illustration of a bulldozer with a wrecking ball with the words, “City Planners” written on it.

The text of the poster goes like this: “Do you like the look of your neighbourhood? City planners are not happy with it! We have an award winning 2002 Neighbourhood Plan that is meeting the objectives of providing valuable housing opportunities and gentle densification. City Council wants to push through a number of aggressive densifying changes that will permanently change your neighbourhood’s character. Reclaim your power to plan the future of your neighbourhood. It has been taken away by city developers that supported your mayor’s campaign.”*

The “aggressive densifying changes” referred to in the poster are the addition of some three story buildings along Fairfield Road and the incorporation of townhouses into the Gonzales neighbourhood.

Above these posters another poster has been placed. It reads: “It’s easy to oppose densification from your single family dwelling. Got privilege? For every young family that doesn’t get to live here, one must live in Langford and commute. Let’s put an end to this NIMBYism.”

How do we resolve this conflict? In addition to townhouses, Fairfield resident Gene Miller has put forward one concept that might help. He calls it ASH – Affordable, Sustainable Housing. One ASH building is 2000 square feet and occupies about 40% site coverage on a standard city lot.  ASH is small-footprint living – ownership or rental – up to 12 suites, in a modest building that looks like a traditional two-and-a-half storey house with four units a floor (approximately 500sf one-bedrooms). With less units per floor, larger units could be incorporated to create homes for families.

ASH delivers up to 12 ‘front doors’ – 12 individual, private entrances distributed around the building.  This creates a sense of ‘arrival at home’ that lobby-and-corridor buildings of any size cannot provide. Each ASH building looks individual and distinctive, and the house-like scale and appearance go a long way to promoting neighbourliness and a sense of continuity and community on the street and within the ASH building.

Implementing the ASH concept and other forms of gentle density means there will be a significant increase in density in Gonzales. This will create new homes for families. At the same time, the look and feel of the neighbourhood can be retained. Here’s an idea Council might want to consider in the future: to save hundreds of rezonings, the City could create an ASH entitlement in the same way we have a garden suite entitlement – on any single family lot an ASH could be built, as long as there’s a mix of unit sizes and some form of clearly defined affordability in each building.

Victoria is growing. And as the single largest age demographic in the city according to the 2016 census – 25-29 year olds ­– start to have families, many of them will want to live in Victoria’s established neighbourhoods because they are amazing places. If we want a city that is inclusive and diverse, we must absolutely ensure that neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood residents make room for them.

*NB To put the statement in the poster in context, my 2014 campaign was funded 51% by corporate donations, 49% by individuals – the most even split of any candidate.

Originally published in the Victoria News here.