Help us develop one possible solution to the rental crisis

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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.

Who is paying for those bike lanes anyway?

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The Pandora two-way separated bike lane opened on time and on budget on May 1st. It’s been open for a month now and the use has been staggering. Preliminary data reveal that we’re seeing well over 1000 people per day using the infrastructure. This is a marked increase from usage on Pandora before the lanes opened.

In addition to data driven declarations of success even in these early days, anecdote and observation tell a deeper story. Before the installation of the Pandora bike lane, I can’t say I’d ever seen someone under the age of ten riding their own bike downtown. Now I’m seeing young kids, on their own two wheels, trailing closely behind their parents. And not only on sunny weekend days but also during the morning and afternoon commutes.

The new bike lane is making older kids and their parents feel safer too. I got this email from a Vic High parent last week, “Good morning Lisa. We attended my daughters last dance performance at Victoria High. After we left for home in our car, she left on her bike.  She got home shortly after us. We said, ‘That was quick how did you do that?’ She said, ‘I took the protected bike lanes; Lisa gave us a map.’ Thank you. Knowing my daughter is safe means a lot to us.”

These kids and teenagers are the people we built the bike lanes for. They’ll grow up knowing how to move through the city by bicycle and they’ll be able to do it safely. Biking will be normal for them not some “alternate” mode of transportation.

In addition to smiles and emails of thanks from parents, we’ve also received emails saying that cyclists should be paying their fair share for this new infrastructure. And that the Pandora bike lane was a waste of their property tax dollars.

In fact, it’s the opposite. People who ride bikes more than they drive cars subsidize infrastructure for cars. Everyone pays property taxes (those who rent pay them through their rent) and its property taxes that pay for roads. It’s enormously expensive to build and maintain roads for vehicles. Vehicles are much harder on roads than bikes or pedestrians. Vehicles lead to potholes and the need for pavement repair. Vehicles mean that when we build new infrastructure like the Johnson Street Bridge we need to build additional new wide, expensive lanes for cars. Those who bike, take transit, or walk more than they drive are subsidizing car infrastructure.

Second, the Pandora bike lanes were not paid for with property taxes but rather with gas taxes. Gas taxes are collected when people pump gas into their cars. Many people who ride bikes also drive cars from time to time so they are helping to pay for this infrastructure too.

Want to learn more about the economics of cycling? Watch the webcast of Portland’s Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy giving a Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall.

City takes giant step to encourage more rental housing

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Last night, City Council voted to allow garden suites outright in single-family zones across the City. With 6,744 single family dwellings in the City this move has the potential to substantially increase the city’s rental stock in a very tight market. Until now, garden suite applications have been evaluated by Council on a case-by-case basis through the rezoning process. This change will make it significantly easier and less costly for homeowners to build new garden suites.

I’m thrilled to see Council take this significant step to implement the work done by the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability. While we won’t see the potential fulfilled overnight, with this change we are significantly reducing the red tape involved in building a small backyard rental home.

Before the changes Council made last night, it cost homeowners around $4000 in fees and took about six to eight months to go through the process. With the changes it now costs $200 and takes three to four weeks. For those interested in building a garden suite, you can find the guidelines here. These small rental homes cannot be used for short term vacation rentals; they are meant to house Victorians.

Prior to adopting these changes, we consulted with a wide range of stakeholders and the public. In order to address privacy concerns, we added a section to the guidelines to optimize privacy between neighbours, including recommendations for windows facing away from neighbouring properties and no rooftop outdoor space allowed.

This change is part of the City’s ambitious Victoria Housing Strategy 2016 – 2025, which is the City’s plan for improving housing affordability over the next decade by:

  • Increasing the supply of housing for low to moderate income households
  • Encouraging diversity of housing types, tenures, and prices across the city and within neighbourhoods
  • Building awareness and partnerships for affordable housing through communication, education and advocacy

This significant change won’t solve the housing crisis. As Eric Swanson, Executive Director of Generation Squeeze said last night, speaking in support of the changes, “the housing crisis requires a ‘yes and’ approach.” The move to allow small rental homes in backyards is a big yes. To read more about what’s up next in the City’s plans head to the Victoria Housing Strategy 2016 – 2025.

 

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.

Council Highlights – March 23 2017

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Council Highlights provide a snapshot of the progress made on City programs, initiatives and on Council decision-making. For more information on each initiative, please visit the accompanying link where noted. We welcome anyone who would like to receive Council Highlights to email us at engage@victoria.ca.

Enforcement of Cannabis Related Business Bylaw and the Zoning Regulation Bylaw
The City will commence legal proceedings to enforce provisions of City bylaws in relation to any cannabis-related businesses that are operating without a valid business licence or that have not applied for a rezoning where required; and any business permitting consumption of cannabis on the premises contrary to the Cannabis Related Business Regulation Bylaw.

“Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community” Mayor’s Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement Draft Action Plan
Council adopted the Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community Action Plan produced by the Mayor’s Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement with an amendment to include ‘recent immigrants’ to the group of people who are un- or underemployed and would be the strategic focus to create employment opportunities to address the labour shortage in the region. The plan will be finalized and available on the City’s website next week. View the report and appendices.

Single-Use Plastic Retail Bag Reduction Project – Proposed ‘Roadmap’
From April to September 2017, the City will work with the community to explore ways to reduce single-use plastic retail bag use, which will include stakeholder workshops for business, industry, advocate and resident groups to share their unique perspectives related to future bag reduction regulations; working with business stakeholders to promote a set of voluntary commitments / pledges to reduce retail bag use such as detailed reporting of bag usage, improved signage and education, retail bag take-back programs, reusable bag donation centres, and voluntary bag fee/ban actions; and developing and implementing a design competition for a City of Victoria sustainable reusable retail bag, with a financial reward of $2,000 to be funded through the solid waste management budget.

Staff will report back to Council in October 2017 with a draft bylaw prior to the final opportunity for public comment on the issue of single-use plastic retail bag reduction regulations. The City will work with the CRD to draft a model bylaw for a phased in ban of plastic bags that could be adopted by Councils across the region. An opportunity for public comment will be held in November before the model bylaw is considered for adoption. View the report.

Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project Quarterly Update
Council received the quarterly update on the Johnson Street Bridge Replacement project for information. This is the first quarterly report for 2017, with the next one scheduled in June. Work on the steel fabrication continues at two locations in China. Onsite activities include roadworks and the new sidewalk that opened on the southwest corner of Harbour and Esquimalt Roads, providing increased access to the public. An additional cycle ramp from the pedestrian bridge to the eastbound bridge lanes, which will enhance cycle traffic flow, is under design and handrails are currently under fabrication. The fendering design process continues. The current budget is $105 million and there will be two more planned budget increase requests for fendering and public realm work. The bridge is scheduled to be open to traffic by the end of December 2017, with project completion by March 31, 2018. View the report.

Ship Point Master Plan Process
The City will develop concepts for Ship Point that reflect Victoria’s history, support other waterfront planning initiatives and align with City policies. The concepts, which will focus on features including the public use of the site, attractive park spaces and economic development, will be shared with the community this summer for input. Staff will report back as part of the plan with a proposed budget, funding options, and an implementation plan. View the report.

Public Hearing for Rezoning of 2330 Richmond Road
A public hearing was held on the rezoning of 2330 Richmond Road. Council approved the rezoning application and development permit to allow for a seven unit, three-storey multi-family residential development. All related bylaws were adopted. View rezoning application details and development permit variance application details.

Cities in the 21st Century: Lunch Time Lectures at City Hall

I’m sitting in the Imagine Café in James Bay, watching a man and child toss a Frisbee in Fisherman’s Wharf park on this blustery late February Sunday morning. I came here for inspiration, to help me imagine better.

Sometimes here in Victoria we have trouble imagining our long-term future. What will Victoria be like in 2041 when our current Official Community Plan (OCP) expires? How do we meet the OCP vision of Victoria being an urban sustainability leader by then? How do we build for that city now?

Collectively, we can’t imagine. We have a hard time sometimes seeing beyond what we know, what our individual experiences are. I suppose in part this is human nature; we stick within our comfort zones to stay safe. But as humans we’re also intensely curious beings.

To help us all imagine more concretely, City Manager Jason Johnson and I are hosting Cities in the 21st Century: Lunch Time Lectures at City Hall. And we invite you to join us! What does Victoria look like in 30 to 40 years? How do we get there? The Lunch Time Lectures will provide doses of inspiration from near and far. We will examine how, together, city hall, residents and businesses can seize the opportunities and challenges of being a leading-edge city in the 21st century.

The first lecture is Monday March 6, 12-1pm at City Hall. “Inspired to Lead: Climate Action at the City and Beyond,” is presented by Fraser Work, the City’s Director of Engineering and Public Works.

Fraser Work has been with the City for 16 months. He’s leading the Climate Action and Sustainability renewal programs at the City, and is part of an integrated and interdisciplinary team that is developing the strategy and implementing projects to significantly improve community and corporate greenhouse gas emissions and overall environmental performance.

The lectures are free and open to the public. Bring your lunch; we’ll provide the tea and coffee!

All lectures are 12-1 at City Hall. Have topics or speakers you’d like to see? Email mayor@victoria.ca Here’s what’s upcoming in the series. Save the dates! Please head here for more info.

Monday April 3
21st Century Leadership, Dan Pontefract, Author, Speaker, Thinker

Monday May 1
The Death and Life of the Single-Family House, Nathanael Lauster, University of British Columbia

Monday June 5
Bikes Mean Business, Elly Blue, Portland Oregon

Monday July 10
TBD

Monday August 14
TBD

Monday September 11
Building Child-Friendly Public Spaces, Diana Studer, Victoria

Monday October 2
TBD

Monday November 6
TBD

Monday December 4
TBD

 

 

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

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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.

 

City of Victoria Council Highlights – January 26, 2017

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Council Highlights provide a snapshot of the progress made on City programs, initiatives and on Council decision-making. For more information on each initiative, please visit the accompanying link where noted. We welcome anyone who would like to receive Council Highlights to email us at engage@victoria.ca.

Dockside Green Rezoning Application
Following a public hearing, Council adopted amendments to the Official Community Plan and Zoning Amendment Bylaws for Dockside Green, approving the Dockside Green Updated Neighbourhood Plan.

The approved plan allows for additional uses within the proposed Sub-Areas including:
•       brewery (not more than one facility, maximum manufacturing area is 500m2)
•       distillery (not more than one facility, maximum manufacturing area is 500m2)
•       liquor retail store, as an accessory use to a distillery or a brewery (not more than two stores that shall not exceed 100m2 each in floor area)
•       kindergarten (daycare)
•       parks
•       seniors’ housing – assisted living
•       seniors’ housing – independent living
•       cultural facility
More details

Clover Point Pump Station Rezoning Application
Council moved forward to Public Hearing a rezoning application which would permit the Capital Regional District to expand the existing Clover Point Pump Station, install a conveyance pipe along Dallas Road and permit public realm improvements such as interpretive signage, benches, bike racks and more. No date set for the hearing yet.
More details

Royal McPherson Theatre Society Partner’s Project Group
The City has endorsed a work plan for the Theatre Society that will encourage more municipal participation in the project group. In addition, Council has requested that the CRD Board lift a funding freeze on capital funds for 2017.

VicPD Mental Health Strategy
The Victoria Police Department will receive $204,900 from the City for a pilot project intended to support vulnerable populations as outlined in their Mental Health Strategy. The Council motion supporting this funding noted the following conditions:

Fund first year of police support for vulnerable population pilot project, $204,900 from 2016 surplus.

Subject to a report from police with regard to pilot project, to the satisfaction of the majority of Council, fund second year of pilot project, $204,900 from 2017 surplus
That the Mayor write to Island Health and ask for them to consider funding one of the Assertive Community Treatment officers in the future

That VicPD work with a cross section of community partners drawn from groups such as the downtown service providers, and Social Inclusion Advisory Committee in developing an evaluation framework for the pilot project
 
Accessibility Improvements
Two new pilot projects have been approved aimed at improving accessibility in Victoria. Truncated domes, also known as curb cuts, as well as accessible pedestrian signals each received $30,000 to pilot the improvements. Council also approved that reports to Council include accessibility impacts.

Festival Improvement Grants
The City has approved $169,000 cash and $115,500 in-kind in Festival Investment Grants. The 32 festivals and celebrations that were approved for funding will add to Victoria’s vitality, vibrancy and diversity. The list of successful applicants can be found here.

Short Term Vacation Rentals
Staff will be reporting back to Council on the implications of pro-actively enforcing existing bylaws where short-term vacation rentals are allowed and require a business licence. The City will also consider pro-actively enforcing bylaws where they are not allowed including condos without transient zoning and single-family dwellings (including homes and suites). The City is considering allowing owner-occupied dwellings to offer short-term vacation rentals on a temporary basis. The City is continuing to research ways to limit short-term vacation rentals, where appropriate, in order to increase rental housing stock. An enforcement strategy is under development. Read the staff report here.

2016 Regional Growth Strategy
City Council agreed to advise the Capital Regional District (CRD) Board that the City of Victoria accepts CRD Bylaw No. 4017 to enact the 2016 Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) for the Capital Region. The Strategy is a planning document that sets out a renewed vision for the future of the region until the year 2038 through policies and objectives such as updated population projections, renewed climate change policies, a new section on food systems, a new criteria-based water servicing policy, and refined land use designations. Learn more.

Advisory Bodies to Council
Staff were directed to bring forward policy options to address process enhancements for advisory bodies to Council. Examples of advisory bodies include citizen-based advisory committees, task forces and working groups that assist the City of Victoria and provide recommendations to Council. Learn more.

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