Saanich Peninsula housing group takes a step forward

Peninsula housing group proposes 30 new units — but not without with the help of area employers.

The key to solving housing issues on the Saanich Peninsula, says MP Elizabeth May, is defining affordability.

Once that’s done, she said, a proposed partnership group might be able to embark on a plan to build 30 new units of workforce housing.

May, Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands and federal Green Party leader, said affordability and what it means to different people within the local economy should be determined before embarking on new housing programs.

May addressed Sidney town council April 13 following a series of roundtable discussions that started in late 2013. Out of those meetings has grown an interim board for a Peninsula housing partnership, headed by Sylvia Bonet of Finlayson Bonet Architecture.

“The key is affordability,” May said, noting that the roundtable used much of the data collected in a Sidney Industrial Group survey of area employees.

“That was based on people making good incomes,” May continued, “but still cannot find a home affordable for them.”

People who make minimum wage are in a different situation altogether, she said and may require more purpose-built, affordable apartments, for instance.

Bonet added the interim group is looking at a price of around $400,000 as being the high end of what might be deemed affordable housing on the Saanich Peninsula, in this context. One of the ways of getting there, she said, is to see a variety of housing types built.

“However, there’s no comprehensive solution to the issue,” Bonet said.

Sidney town councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey said the issue here is not new, noting that politicians in the previous term of office lost a lot of political capital by putting in place bylaws that allow for more housing.

“It’s up to the consumer, in the end,” he said.

May stressed no one is pointing fingers, adding people do have choices — this idea only opens up more options for housing close to the workplace.

A Saanich Peninsula Housing Partnership is being proposed out of the roundtable meetings. Its goal, outlined in a report, would be to secure funding from various stakeholders, such as employer groups, developers and regional government. That would be used to create an organization whose immediate job would be to convince developers to plan and build 10 new units of workforce housing, per quarter in each of the first three quarters of the organization’s creation.

May said much of the plan is based on a successful body in Whistler that helped create worker housing that remains at or below market value. She added the group isn’t seeking money from local government, just their support to move forward.