Sidney’s future health as a community is closely linked to issues of housing and, according to Mayor Steve Price, the town has taken, and will continue to take, significant steps to address the issues surrounding the need for affordable housing.
“This isn’t a new issue for us at all. In fact, we’ve been very much aware of the need for us to work toward having a broad spectrum of housing available for our residents. If you fail to do that, the health of the entire community suffers” said Price.
Price’s comments came in response to a continued concern regarding the lack of affordable housing highlighted in the 2016 report by the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria. That report, authored by Marika Albert of the Council, revealed that low income households ($15,000 to $29,999/year) make up 13 per cent of the population of the Peninsula, housing options associated with that income represent only 2.5 per cent of the supply.
Households with a moderate income ($30,000 to $49,999 /year) represent 17.6 per cent of the population of the peninsula, the housing options associated with this income category account for only 1.6 per cent of the supply.
“I would say the situation remains dire for those demographic groups. The higher incomes are well served on the Peninsula, but there just isn’t much available for the working poor,” said Albert, adding that families represent huge issue in municipalities like Sidney.
“If we want diverse communities we have to have housing available for those populations,” she said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Price who points toward some of the successful strategies employed by Sidney’s Town Council.
“In response to a development proposal by the Greater Victoria Development Society we approved a 56 -unit affordable housing development on Fourth Street. To make that development possible we granted a tax exemption, waived permit fees and development costs charges (like hook-ups for sewer and water). We did all that with a covenant that it always has to be a rental property so it can’t be converted to condos and sold,” said Price.
He went on to tout the benefit of changes to municipal regulations so that lock-off suites are now legal in Sidney (essentially allowing for rental apartments within other rental properties) and the legalization of suites in residential properties.
“If you look at the new development at the old North Saanich Middle School site, I think that, of the 39 homes being built there, 19 of them have rental suites incorporated in their design. It all adds up.”
Price maintained that Sidney is “light years ahead” of some municipalities, including those on the peninsula when it comes to giving serious attention to the low income housing situation in the region…and with good cause.
“If we don’t act as a responsible council, we could end up like some resort towns where housing became so impossible the workers in various businesses had to be bused in and out – that’s unsustainable and unhealthy and eventually the whole thing collapses.”
Albert is hopeful that all the municipalities on the peninsula become as responsive to the housing crisis as Sidney.
“We’re starting to see a slow shift in attitudes, and that’s something we haven’t seen to this point. It’s encouraging. They’re doing it in a thoughtful way…and in the end, regardless of their personal beliefs, they have to be able to bring their communities along with them if we’re going to have a serious impact on the issue,” said Albert.
“I always try to be hopeful.”