Housing Challenges? Housing Solutions.

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Everyone is aware of the low rental vacancy rate in Victoria right now. We’ve heard about the challenges this is creating for working people, people living on low incomes, seniors on fixed incomes and others. Many people are experiencing this first hand. This housing crunch is also creating a challenge for the business community – affordable workforce housing was a key concern I heard at a recent breakfast of local CEOs.

Yet there’s little understanding of why we’re in this situation. And there’s little understanding of the solutions we’re working on at City Hall and at the CRD; we know that housing is key to a healthy, prosperous and sustainable city.

Let’s look at the data. Between 2011 and 2016, 5775 new people moved to the City of Victoria. In that time only 2802 new housing units were built. In Victoria, the average number of persons per household is 1.8 (compared to a national average of 2.1 persons). This means that between 2011 and 2016, the population of the City grew faster than the number of housing units needed.

The City’s Director of Planning estimates that we probably built about 800-900 fewer units than we needed. Since the population still went up, those 800-900 additional housing units were found somewhere else in the City’s existing housing stock. The difference between Victoria’s vacancy rate in 2013 of 2.4% and today’s 0.5% is about 800 units.

The good news is that there are over 1000 units of housing under construction in Victoria right now, and there are more rental units being built than condos.

The even better news is that we’re taking the housing challenge seriously as a City and a region. The City has begun to implement its 2016-2025 Municipal Housing Strategy. We’ve started by increasing the amount of Housing Trust Fund subsidy to larger rental units, fast-tracking all rental buildings, and working to make it easier for people to build garden suites and secondary suites. And this is just the beginning. The plan can be viewed here.

Even less celebrated (maybe because it is last year’s news?) is the historic $60 million Regional Housing First Program. This will see at least 880 new rental units built in the region over the next five years. The rents will range from $375 per month to 85% of market. The first two buildings have already been approved for funding, including 50 units to be rented at $375 per month.

With all this work underway and all the units currently under construction, we’ll start to see some relief over the next couple of years. In the meantime, and as a community, we need to do two things. First, we need to come together and to support those who are struggling. Second, we need support development projects that add new housing stock in line with the vision in the Official Community Plan where we see traditional neighbourhoods preserved and more density along major roads and in village centres.

This piece was originally published in the Victoria News here.

Megaphone – Change that works, one newspaper at a time

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Last week I had the pleasure of standing with Megaphone vendors during their annual “Big Sell” event in downtown Victoria. I joined the vendors on Douglas Street and saw first hand how hard they work and how vulnerable you have to make yourself in a business like street vending.

“Can we interest you in a Megaphone by donation?” I’d call out. Most people would just simply keep walking, sometimes without even acknowledging that we’d addressed them.  I wonder how it feels to experience this day in day out?  It felt so good when someone would stop and buy a paper and offer a kind word and a smile. Participating in the Big Sell event gave me a deep appreciation of the courage and tenacity of Megaphone vendors.

Megaphone is a magazine sold on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria by homeless and low-income people. Vendors buy the magazine for 75 cents and sell it for $2, keeping the profit and earning a sense of pride and dignity.  To start a business as a Megaphone vendor, low-income and homeless individuals need to complete a sales training session and are then provided with 10 complimentary magazines and the necessary gear to get started. Megaphone staff provide any necessary support to ensure vendors run a successful business.

Vendor Week

The Big Sell event was part of the International Network of Street Papers Vendor Week celebration. It’s an is an annual celebration of the 10,000 street paper vendors around the world. Each one of these men and women – in 35 countries – is using their local street paper as a way to work themselves out of poverty.

During the first week in February, the international program of events, activities and social media action pays tribute to their hard work, as well as challenging perceptions of poverty and homelessness.

You can find out where Megaphone vendors sell in Victoria by using the mobile vendor finder app Please support them!

 

Affordable Home Ownership Key Priority

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I’ve received emails recently asking for Victoria City Council to implement a 15% foreign buyers tax. Council cannot do this. What seems to be missing from public understanding is that the foreign buyers tax was implemented by the Provincial government for all of Metro Vancouver. And that it’s Provincial legislation. The City cannot enact the tax.

Council could lobby for the tax to be implemented here, but where exactly is here? The Finance Minister created the tax for Metro Vancouver not the City of Vancouver. If the Province implemented a foreign buyers tax here it would be for the entire Capital Regional District.

That fact changes the nature of the City’s lobbying efforts. At a recent meeting, Council postponed until April a motion to ask local governments from across the region, and the CRD itself, to request the Province to introduce legislation mirroring that passed for Metro Vancouver in the summer – a 15% foreign buyers tax and vacancy taxation authority.

If we have any hope of a foreign buyers tax in the Capital Regional District, the request has to come from the CRD Board.  And, in order for CRD directors to consider such a request they’ll likely need a bit more data. By April, we’ll have eight months of data since the tax was implemented in Metro Vancouver.

If implementing a foreign buyers tax is beyond municipal and regional authority, what can we do to address affordable home ownership?

The City of Victoria recently held a workshop on affordable home ownership programs from Calgary, Canmore, and BC Housing. The Canmore Community Housing Corporation delivers one to four bedroom townhomes and condos from between $145,000 and $400,000. That is affordable home ownership. Calgary has a similar program, as does Toronto. And BC Housing provides low-cost financing to developers to help with affordability. The workshop was packed by both for profit and non-profit housing developers wanting to be part of the solution.

The good news is that when faced with a crisis, the regional government can respond swiftly. Last year, the CRD acted quickly to set up the $60 million Regional Housing First Program to build affordable workforce rental housing and supportive housing for those who are chronically homeless.

We must now act quickly as a region on affordable home ownership. We need to look at what’s working elsewhere and design a made-in-the-CRD solution to address local market conditions. The affordable home ownership solution we implement must not further burden already burdened taxpayers.

And then we need to implement quickly. What’s at stake if we don’t make affordable home ownership a top priority? The wellbeing of our citizens and the economic prosperity this region is currently experiencing. In order to keep the economy strong, working people and their families must be able to afford to live here.

Originally published in the Victoria News.

 

We stand together in love, against Islamophobia

imamspeaking1Thousands gathered today on the steps of Victoria City Hall and into the street to come together in solidarity with Victoria’s Muslim community after the horrific events in Quebec City on Sunday evening.

Ismail Mohamed Nur, the imam for Victoria’s Masjid Al-Iman mosque spoke courageously about the rise of Islamophobia around the world and in Canada. He said, “We live in a time when people try so very hard to divide us, but it only brings us closer and makes us stronger.” CHEK News covers his moving remarks.

To our Muslim friends, neighbours, sisters and brothers: We love you. We support you. We stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder with you. You belong here. We are your community. And now, more than ever, it is important to stand here together, to say this and affirm this publicly, loudly and clearly.

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In these uncertain times with the volatility that is happening in the United States, in Canada and around the world and with the rise of Islamophobia which Imam Ishmail spoke so courageously about today, we all have a big responsibility. Yes we can protest. And that is important. But we can and must also take a lesson from those at Standing Rock North Dakota who have declared that they are not protestors, they are protectors.

We have a responsibility, each of us, to protect our democracy, to protect our community and the values of difference, diversity and inclusiveness that define us.

But most of all, in these uncertain times, the most important thing we can do, the greatest responsibility we have is to treat each other with kindness and love each other well even when, and especially when it feels hard.

For those of you who asked at today’s gathering, “What’s next?” Here’s one workshop,
Anti-Racism & Anti-Hate Initiatives – Supporting the Integration of Refugees in Our Communities coming up that is now open for registration. There will be more opportunities to get involved, take action, and move from standing on the steps at City Hall to continued solidarity and connection building. Stay tuned here and on my Facebook page and I’ll share information as it is shared with me.

Thank you Victoria.

Local News Coverage of Today’s Gathering
I have proof my community loves me, says Muslim solidarity rally participant
– CBC.ca
Victoria sends Muslims message of hope with vigil at city hall – Times Colonist
Victoria holds public vigil in honour of Quebec mosque victims – CTV News
Thousands at Victoria vigil after mosque shooting – Globalnews.ca
Thousands show support for Victoria’s Muslim community – CHEK News

 

Where to Park in our Downtown

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From the Downtown Victoria Business Association

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Last week, the complexities of transportation editorial launched what the DVBA is currently partnered and working on. The initial 28 action items have now grown to 31 and we are working diligently to bring some or all of the ideas to fruition.

Part one was to produce an interactive map of every possible parking lot/structure and on-street parking space in the Downtown core that we will continue to update. Some of these facilities are privately owned and some are city owned. We have broken them up by parking type and added whether they are monthly, hourly, or weekly.

When you use our map you can click on the pins to get full details, including the number of spots, location and who manages the lot. We have also included how much it costs to park in each facility as well as the hours of operation where applicable and whether there is a waitlist or not for monthly parking. When you click the on-street parking lines, the map will zoom you into the streets themselves so you can conveniently see where the best parking areas are for your daily needs. This map is available in both a digital and pdf version on our website that you can print and carry with you as well.

The digital link will live on our website, so you can access it at any time – with the legend outlining the different kinds of parking on the parking home page.  Most people are unaware there are 16 parkades, nine customer parking lots, more than 40 surface parking lots, and over 1,000 on-street parking spaces in or within a short walk of Downtown Victoria.

Most people are also unaware of the fact Modo Co-operative is in three of our downtown parkades for use when you sign up with their program.

We are continuing to work behind the scenes to bring more private lots online as they become available and continuing talks with developers for public parking within their new buildings.

It is this kind of incremental change and information sharing that keeps the public up to date on where to go and how to get there.

We know how valuable your time is and we want to make it as easy as possible to continue to come downtown to work, shop and play. Our vibrant downtown economy is continuing to grow and we are here to support the businesses throughout the changes.

Parking is only ONE piece of our complex transportation system, but if we can make it one step easier to locate for consumers, shop owners, commuters and residents than it is one step forward in a positive and productive way.

Where to park in Downtown Victoria:
http://downtownvictoria.ca/play-downtown/parking-downtown-victoria

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Media Contact

Kerri Milton
Executive Director
Downtown Victoria Business Association
250-386-2239
kerri@downtownvictoria.ca

Task Force Seeks Input on Draft Action Plan: Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community

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Date:  Thursday, January 19, 2017
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — The Mayor’s Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement is seeking input to help shape its draft action plan, Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community, which will be introduced at the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Victoria mixer tonight from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority at Ogden Point.

The actions in the plan are meant to help people who are out of the workforce get to work, and to grow a strong, inclusive economy at the same time. The plan identifies three sets of recommendations that will strengthen the City’s procurement practices to maximize community benefit as well as support small business and social enterprise sectors. Using an ecosystem-based approach to community economic development, the draft action plan focuses to a large degree on efforts to get the unemployed, underemployed and marginalized into employment.

“The Task Force members believe that in order to truly build a sustainable economy, we must create an inclusive economy which provides opportunities for everyone to succeed, including those who are often left behind such as youth, First Nations people, those with mental health and addictions challenges, those without homes or with disabilities, and people released from prison,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.

The draft recommendations include: Leading Economic Change – make the mainstream economy more inclusive to ensure there is always an opportunity for everyone to prosper; Community Benefit Procurement – purchases should be leveraged to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being
of the community; and Social Enterprise Development – strengthen and grow businesses already doing business with community benefit in mind and grow the social enterprise sector.

Each of the three recommendations has a set of actions and tasks to be implemented over the next five years
to achieve prescribed outcomes. Leads and supports in the community to help achieve these outcomes are also proposed and include the City of Victoria, local organizations, agencies and business.

The Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community draft action plan is available at victoria.ca/economicchange.

There are a variety of ways for the community to provide feedback, including completing an online survey, emailing input to economicchange@victoria.ca or tweeting to @CityofVictoria #EconomicChangeVic by Sunday, February 12, 2017. Public input will help inform the draft action plan that will be presented to City Council for consideration in March.

The Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement was a recommendation of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity, which with input from the community, developed the City’s economic action plan, Making Victoria: Unleashing Potential in 2015. The economic action plan identifies six engines to drive economic prosperity, generate jobs and raise household incomes. One engine that encompasses the rest is entrepreneurship and social enterprise.

“Creating Prosperity Through Economic Development” is a key objective of the City of Victoria 2015-2018 Strategic Plan for focus and investment. Appointed by City Council last April, the Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement is chaired by Mayor Lisa Helps and includes Councillor Marianne Alto and First Nations representatives, as well as leaders in social enterprise, community and economic development, and business. For more information, visit: victoria.ca/economicchange.

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For More Information:
Mayor Lisa Helps
Chair, Mayor’s Task Force on
Social Enterprise and Social Procurement
250.661.2708

 

Do 3 Things for Canada to Celebrate our Country’s Birthday!

Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2017
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — Imagine if every Canadian did three things for their neighbourhood, their nation, and their world this year. This would equate to more than 100 million acts of community building. To celebrate Canada’s 150th, Canadians are invited to give a gift of three things — three acts of service, large or small, to help their community. The City of Victoria is joining the 3 Things for Canada initiative to mark Canada’s 150th birthday this year.

“We are honoured and excited to be participating in a national campaign that inspires acts of community service to mark Canada’s 150th,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “We invite Victoria citizens to do three things to support or improve their neighbourhood in 2017 and inspire others to do the same.”

3 Things for Canada is a national campaign created by the Mayor’s Civic Engagement Committee of The City of Calgary after a challenge from Mayor Naheed Nenshi to get all Canadians to become more involved in their communities.

“I am thrilled Victoria is joining us in our birthday gift to the nation,” said Mayor Nenshi. “If everyone just thinks about what they are passionate about and what they can do to help and then does just three acts of service, we can change the world.”

Examples of what people may choose to do include holding a neighbourhood BBQ or block party, getting to know neighbours at a coffee gathering, initiating a little library on a local street, volunteering for a non-profit organization, bringing a hot lunch to a senior in need, and more. Citizens are encouraged to be creative as they do these acts of service for their neighbourhood, their nation, or the world.

In addition to doing three acts of service, citizens are asked to share these good deeds and spread the word, whether it’s posting a photo, video or comment on the 3 Things for Canada Facebook page, using the hashtag #3ThingsforCanada on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or sending a digital postcard to a friend.

In October 2016, Mayor Naheed Nenshi visited Victoria to participate in the Victoria Foundation-led panel discussion Wellness Matters: A Dialogue on Connection, Belonging and the Power of Well-being, moderated by Mayor Helps at the Victoria Conference Centre. At the event, Mayor Nenshi spoke of the success of his 3 Things for Calgary volunteer-based campaign, on which the 3 Things for Canada national initiative is based.

For more information, visit: www.victoria.ca/3thingsforcanada and www.ThreeThingsforCanada.ca

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For More Information:
Mayor Lisa Helps
250.661.2708

Victoria Is Part of a Growing Movement to Put Spending Decisions in Hands of Taxpayers

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Date: Tuesday, January 10, 2017
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC – Victoria’s first participatory budgeting process kicks-off Thursday with an opportunity for residents to learn more about participatory budgeting and begin to design a process where the community decides how to spend $60,000 in Victoria.

 PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING KICK OFF

Thursday, January 12, 2017
5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Foyer of the Atrium Building at 800 Yates Street

The launch event will be facilitated by the Participatory Budgeting Project, a non-profit agency from New York that works to empower people to decide together how to spend public money. They have supported participatory processes across North America through which over $200 million dollars have been allocated. Shari Davis, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Participatory Budgeting Project, will lead the Thursday session. During her time at the City of Boston, Shari launched Youth Lead the Change, the first youth participatory budgeting process in the US.

Participatory budgeting, commonly known as PB, pushes traditional public engagement and traditional budgeting methods to the limit by empowering citizens to design a decision-making process and choose how the funds are spent. The municipality becomes the facilitator of the community and supports the citizen efforts, implementing what the community decides they want for the community. This is the first participatory process led by a municipality on the South Island, and one of the first in BC.

Responsive to citizen needs for greater involvement in government decision-making, participatory budgeting was originally introduced in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and is now common across the globe in varying forms and deliberative processes. In North America, cities including San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Toronto, Guelph, and closer to home, Tofino, have introduced participatory components to their annual municipal budgets. In terms of financial allocations in other cities, they range from nominal amounts in small centres, to millions of dollars in large cities such as Chicago and New York. Canadian examples include Toronto ($450,000), Guelph ($125,000) and Tofino ($20,000).

The $60,000 earmarked in Victoria applies to the entire community rather than one specific neighbourhood. It is an important principle of participatory budgeting to reach all demographics and neighbourhoods in the community. Accordingly, efforts are being made to reach neighbourhoods and groups not typically active in the budget process (e.g. youth, seniors, new residents, new immigrants).

Everyone is invited to participate. It’s important there is participation and views from groups across the city. The event will also be of interest to government, school, and community organizations looking to introduce participatory budgeting processes.

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For More Information:

Mayor Lisa Helps 250.661.2708

Shari Davis, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Participatory Budgeting Project, is available for interviews January 11 and January 12.  Interviews can be scheduled by calling 250.661.0085

Why I love to drive my car and Modeshift 2017

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It was the day after boxing day. Tired of turkey, we wanted Pad Thai for dinner. The Baan Thai on Blanshard St. was closed. The Oak Bay location was open. It was rainy and dark and cold. As I drove to the Victoria-Oak Bay border down Fort Street to pick up the warm delicious food, I felt happy and thankful to be driving my car.

In the future, I likely won’t have a car. I’ll order a self-driving car using my smartphone app to arrive at my door and pick me up to go get the food. But that’s a little ways off. In the meantime, people do drive and we’ve got some work to do on transportation solutions.

We’ve had lots of feedback about #Biketoria. Some people love it. Some people hate it. It has become a polarizing issue in the community. And when the community is polarized, it’s hard to move forward.

When the city builders of the 20th century started to build the road network, they did not call it #Cartoria. They just built the infrastructure for the emerging transportation technology, the car. And there was likely much protest and complaint from carriage drivers, horse riders, and people who walked and rode bikes. But the city leaders at the time could see the future.

In 2017 I think we need to ditch the car-bike polarity that has plagued us in 2016. We need to work towards something much more inspiring as a community that other cities in the 21st century are so far ahead of Victoria on. We need to set a transportation mode shift goal and work to meet it.

A few years ago, Vancouver set a goal that by 2020, 50% of all trips in the city would be by transit, cycling or walking. Last year they hit their 2020 goal!

We don’t have a Skytrain but the Smart Bus is coming; you’ll soon be able to see on your phone, in real time, when the bus is arriving. And this federal government is committed to transit. Yes not everyone can walk, bike, or take transit. But what if as a community we tried a bit harder. I drove my car to get Pad Thai that night, but most days I either walk or bike to City Hall so that I’m freeing up a parking space for someone else. What if those of us who could did this even a few days a week to start.

Why should we care about aiming for a 50% mode shift to walking, cycling and transit? To make parking easier for those who need it. Because it’s good for our health and makes us happy to get fresh air and exercise. Because cities are ground zero for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking climate action. But most of all, simply because it’s the future.

Thanks to the Victoria News for originally publishing this piece and also to the Times Colonist for their coverage today of the topic. And thanks also to Eric Haight President and Co-founder of Kano Apps for both the push and the inspiration!

Year of Reconciliation Proclamation

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Whereas for thousands of years the Lekwungen people have lived, loved, raised families, fished, hunted and traded on these their traditional territories, and;

Whereas much more recently the City of Victoria was founded upon these territories, and;

Whereas the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report set out 94 Calls to Action, many of which can be actioned by municipalities, and;

Whereas the City of Victoria has adopted some of these Actions to begin a journey of reconciliation between settlers and the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, and;

Whereas reconciliation begins with listening, with truth telling, and with acknowledging past wrongs, and;

Whereas reconciliation can be painful, uncomfortable and re-traumatizing, and;

Whereas reconciliation means honouring the truth, reconciling the future, and taking meaningful action for change, together, on shared terms, to create a bright future;

Now Therefore I do hereby proclaim 2017 as the Year of Reconciliation, on the Traditional Territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, in the City of Victoria, the Capital City of the province of British Columbia.

CHEK News and the Times Colonist both provided great coverage of the Proclamation at City Hall today. Thank you.