Central Saanich will review housing and land use planning practices on the basis of a new housing report that has found gaps. But the public also heard from a councillor who questioned whether the municipality can actually do something about the issue of housing.
Councillors tasked staff to prepare a report reviewing current housing and land use policies, as well as best practices from other jurisdictions to identify policies assisting in the creation of both rental and home ownership after accepting a housing assessment report prepared by Urban Systems.
Coun. Niall Paltiel said the report with its important information presents Central Saanich with options: let it sit on the shelf or take specific actions. The report shows some “significant” gaps in rental, senior and workforce housing, he said. “And there may be areas where we can do something to address those gaps,” he said. Paltiel acknowledged that staff currently confront a heavy workload. But if he did not put a fixed deadline on the report, he pointed out that the report includes some information that may affect ongoing policy reviews and future zoning updates.
The report required by the provincial government assesses the state of housing in the community. It finds Central Saanich’s vacancy rate was at 0.6 per cent in 2019, below the range of three to five per cent considered healthy by experts. It also makes a case for more rental housing as well as more housing for seniors and individuals with disabilities.
Coun. Chris Graham, who voted against the motion to prepare the follow-up report, did not challenge the findings of the housing assessment per se, but questioned its framing and the larger premise that the municipality can actually do something about housing.
During his comments, he focused on the claim that a healthy vacancy rate ranges between three and five per cent. He acknowledged that a low vacancy rate has the potential to give landlords undue power over renters. “But from my recollection, in the last couple of decades, I don’t recall a situation in the (Capital Regional District) where vacancies have been over one per cent.”
While Graham acknowledged a vacancy rate between three and five per cent as sign of a “healthy market,” he questioned whether it is achievable. “I don’t know why it is relevant, because I don’t think we will ever achieve something close to that.”
Consultant Marina Jozipovic responded by saying “that’s a great point.”
Graham, who described the report as “really fascinating” in breaking down the housing market and its trendlines, then questioned whether the municipality can actually increase the local supply of housing, against the backdrop of some 7,000 existing units. “Anything we do is going to have a minimal effect on the actual average cost of those units,” he said.
Affordable housing, he said, had traditionally meant “older” and “run-down” housing. “Of course, we are now looking at ways to build new construction affordable housing, which completely runs in the face of those economic models.”
Graham later voted with his colleagues in favour of forwarding the report to the ongoing review of the Official Community Plan in a separate motion.
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