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?

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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.

New housing for Indigenous women facing homelessness

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This is a project I’ve been working on with the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness for a very short time! It’s good to see it come to fruition so quickly.

The Government of British Columbia is partnering with the City of Victoria, Atira Women’s Resource Society and the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, to build new modular housing for Indigenous women, with 24/7 support services.

“Having access to a safe, stable place to call home is crucial for anyone who is experiencing, or is at risk of, homelessness,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “Indigenous people are over-represented amongst the homeless population. And homeless women, especially those who are Indigenous, can face tremendous risks. That’s why I’m really pleased to see this project moving ahead.”

Once operational, each of the 21 homes will include a bathroom and kitchen. Residents will also benefit from:

  • 24/7 on-site staff support, including daily meal services, employment training, and culturally specific and life-skills programming;
  • Health and wellness services, including mental-health and addictions treatment;
  • A shared amenity space and access to laundry facilities; and
  • Custodial and maintenance services.

“Indigenous women are the strength of their communities, families and culture, but for too long they have also been victims of violence, homelessness and poverty,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “By providing a safe, secure home and culturally appropriate support services, as we are with these new supportive homes in Victoria, we are sending the signal that government and its Indigenous partners are here to help Indigenous women in the spirit of reconciliation, and ultimately, in respect for their culture, history and traditions.”

“The need for housing in Victoria has reached a critical level,” said Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake. “These new modular homes will provide Indigenous women in need with an affordable and safe place to call home, while accessing the support services that they need to reach their potential.”

Neighbouring residents and businesses will have an opportunity to learn more about the project at an open house. Open house details will be announced in the coming weeks.

The temporary housing will be operational for approximately five years, and will be on the 800 block of Hillside Avenue, as part of the Evergreen Terrace complex.

“Indigenous women are more likely than other women in Canada to experience both violence and homelessness,” said Lisa Helps, mayor of the City of Victoria. “This housing at Evergreen Terrace provides the opportunity to interrupt those trends, and bring culturally responsive, safe, and affordable stability to the lives of Indigenous women in Victoria, while building community.”

“We are thrilled to be involved in this critically important project that we believe will help address the root causes of homelessness for Indigenous women, which are the loss of children and connection to culture and land,” said Janice Abbott, CEO, Atira Women’s Resource Society. “In addition to providing the immediate safety and security of stable housing, we will work with the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and the female tenants to help rebuild those connections. We truly believe that if we can find a way to support women in parenting their children and provide children with the opportunity to be raised in their families, we can help eliminate homelessness and violence against Indigenous women.”

Pending municipal approvals, construction is anticipated to begin in fall 2018, and will be complete by March 2019.

“The Aboriginal Coalition currently supports Indigenous women through a program called the Indigenous Women’s Circle, geared towards strengthening Indigenous self-identity, providing life skills and food security and building a sense of family and community. We are very pleased that through the modular housing project, we can now also offer a safe space for the women to call home,” said Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi, executive director, Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness. “The women we support face multiple barriers, are often caught up in the chaos of domestic violence, and are at high risk. Culturally supportive housing has the potential to transform lives. I am optimistic and excited about the possibilities.”

Once the facility is operational, a 24/7 contact line will be available to answer questions and address neighbourhood concerns. In the meantime, questions and comments can be submitted to: communityrelations@bchousing.org

New government must act swiftly on childcare and housing

Many people have been asking me what my hopes are for our new government of British Columbia. They’re very simple: I’d like them to do everything they said they’d do. And I’d like them to do these things as quickly as possible particularly with regard to childcare and affordable housing.

Victoria’s economy is very strong right now. Tech and tourism are booming and construction jobs abound. Two big threats to this continued prosperity are childcare and housing.

The Chamber of Commerce has done some great work on advocating for affordable childcare. What they’ve found is that according to the to Victoria Child Care Resource and Referral, the average monthly cost of full-time child care for kids under five, as of February, was between $812 and $1,128 per month. That is over $10,000 a year per child and at least $40,000 from birth to kindergarten. The problem is exacerbated for a family with more than one child and continues with the need for after-school care and care during school vacations.

The 2016 Canada Census data reveals the gap between our regional population of children and number of child care spaces. The most acute gap is for infants and toddlers where we have roughly one licensed child care space for every eight children. The gap is likely to expand. Between 2011 and 2016 our population of 25 to 39 year olds grew by nine per cent and our population of children under 11 also grew by nine per cent.

The province must: ensure B.C. gets its fair share of funding from the federal government under the National Framework on Early Learning and Child Care; expand publicly funded spaces for early childhood education training; consider including childcare as part of the K to 12 education system and allow access to school property and facilities, which have already been paid for by the taxpayer, for affordable childcare spaces using cost-effective prefab buildings; deliver on the campaign promise of $10-a-day childcare.

It also matters to our economy that the people who provide services we need and want, can afford to live here. For example, a minimum-wage worker makes $22,568 per year working full-time. Assuming 30 per cent of this income is spent on housing – a generally accepted guideline – that’s $565 per month for rent, inclusive of utilities. But the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Victoria is $1,290 as of February. This is not sustainable.

We need a predictable, consistent investment in affordable housing. We need to create a diverse and resilient housing ecosystem including everything from affordable housing with supports as needed for those exiting homelessness, to affordable three-bedroom condos for families in downtown urban centres. The government can’t do this alone; it would be wise to reward local governments that have clear strategies at the local level for cutting red tape and making it easier for non-profit and for-profit housing developers to build new rental housing.

The health, prosperity and sustainability of our city and our province depends on swift action on both these fronts. We are standing by as local governments to assist in any way we can.

This piece was first published here in the Victoria News.

On Affordable Housing, Bike Lanes, and Building a Liveable City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Help us develop one possible solution to the rental crisis

victims

In Victoria in the 1940s during WWII, Times Colonist headlines urged Victorians to open their homes and “Billet Homeless War Workers.” Victorians responded to the crisis and opened their homes to strangers recently relocated to Victoria to help the local war effort. They didn’t call it the “sharing economy”, they didn’t charge anything, they just opened up their spare bedrooms and invited strangers in.

Now we have a different crisis on our doorstep. For thirty years (1982-2012) there were no new purpose built rental buildings built in Victoria. And, in the last five years, nearly 6000 people have moved into the city. We’re facing a rental crisis. What if Victorians responded in the same way to this crisis? What if there was a way to connect people living in vehicles, in motel rooms, on couches, with seniors living in large houses all alone, with retirees with an extra bedroom, or even with families with large houses and extra rooms. Unthinkable? Victorians stepped up to help out their neighbours in the past.

Interested in exploring the idea further? I’m working with a group of citizens and businesses to develop one possible solution. We need three people currently living in vehicles, on couches, in woodsheds (yes I have heard that this is true in more than one case) AND three people who might be willing to open their homes.

We’d like these six people to join us for a short focus group session. There is no commitment required other than sharing ideas. We want to build a solution for the people who will use it – for those looking for a place to stay until the rental crisis subsides and for those wiling to billet someone.

Please email mayor@victoria.ca if you’d like to help us out. And please share this post! To read more on the current rental crisis and its causes please head here.