The hash tag reads #dont-haveamillion. It’s a social media campaign that started in Vancouver but which has struck a chord with John Juricic, the Executive Director of the Sidney North Saanich Industrial Group and the 12 companies that his group represents.
“It’s a campaign that we’ve signed onto and the hope is that it will raise awareness of the fact that there are a lot of people out there who are working hard make a living but who are never going to be able to afford a house.”
Juricic said that the campaign has generated a lot of interest and is relevant, not only in Vancouver, but to Vancouver Island as well.
Juricic said that the problem is particularly daunting in North Saanich where the Sidney North Saanich Industrial Group, is finding the lack of housing has an impact on their ability to attract and keep skilled employees.
“This area’s mayor and council have for a long time been very anti-development,” said Juricic. “They seem locked in time and very resistant to change that will allow their community to grow.”
Juricic said the situation as it stands is untenable for many people who earn their livelihood on the Peninsula.
“Our member industries employ over 3,000 people in this community, and about 75 per cent of those people can’t live here in the North Saanich area because there is no affordable housing available,” he said.
“It’s not right, and it isn’t good for the community. I’m not sure why (the mayor and council) can’t see that.”
Juricic said there are a host of reasons for wanting to ensure the employees of companies in the Sidney and North Saanich communities have a place to live near their place of employment.
“Doesn’t it just stand to reason?” said Juricic. “Most people want to live near where they work if it’s possible. They want to become part of the community … but without a place to live they will never be that.
“Does it make sense to make them travel here five days a week when they could become active participants in this community?”
North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall said she is sympathetic to the concerns of the #dont-haveamillion campaign but feels her municipality has a broader mandate in respect to housing.
“We’ve already allowed a lot of housing to be constructed … we don’t stand in its way, but what is promised to be affordable housing then jumps in price anyway,” said Finall.
“If we are going to allow for this sort of housing, we have to have some assurances that the properties won’t just jump in price to where they aren’t affordable anyway.”
It’s a sentiment that Finall has expressed in the past as well. Last July, when the community was considering proposals that could have seen 520 new housing units built over a short term, Finall was quoted as saying that the development would represent a “philosophical shift” from the historical approach of slow, moderate growth within the community.
As far as Juricic is concerned, Finall’s assertions that her council has generally allowed housing developments are both untrue and unfounded.
“We’ve had one large development called Canora Mews and that amounted to only about 40 houses. About half of those were immediately purchased by Viking Air.
“Other attempts at development have never been embraced by past North Saanich councils.”
“I don’t know where (Mayor Finall) is getting her facts from.”
As to the issue of new housing rising in price after they are constructed, Juricic has a simple solution.
“Trust in the free market system. You don’t need some sort of external pricing controls. It’s a question of supply and demand. Of course if you keep limiting supply, the prices will rise.
“The answer is to build more houses, not restrict development and build less.”
“North Saanich politicians have to realize that they are the landlords for the municipality. Their ability to issue approvals or stall development has an immediate impact on whether our 3,000 employees become part of the community or continue to be people who have to drive in from other municipalities to work in their community and then leave to live elsewhere,” said Juricic. “I’m sure that most of them would be happy to have the opportunity to live in the community where they earn their livelihood.”
“We have a marvellous community right now,” said Finall. “Of course we value the contribution of our manufacturing base, but you can’t automatically assume that all those people want to live here. It may well be that at least some of them are happier living elsewhere.”
It’s a statement that bothers Juricic.
“We are giving North Saanich and the Peninsula in general a chance to grow and prosper, but as long as we have that kind of attitude, we may as well be howling in the wind.”
— by Tim Collins/News contributor