Workforce housing gains traction on Peninsula

Three councils to talk affordability at meeting next week

When the Peninsula’s three municipal councils meet together Tuesday, they’ll discuss workforce housing, among other regional topics.

It’s an issue gaining steam with a renewed push from the Peninsula’s biggest employers.

“For quite some time local businesses have had difficulty recruiting new employees because of the cost [of living on the Peninsula],” said Ian Brown, managing director of Tower Premium Woodworking. He and a group of 12 other large employers west of the Pat Bay Highway formed a group to push for workforce housing on the Peninsula. “Now they’re additionally having trouble retaining existing workers because of activities such as Seaspan in Victoria harbour and growth in other areas starting to draw away their workers to lower cost of living parts of the south Island.”

Since November’s municipal elections, the group has been far more active. It has written letters and made presentations to local councils, stating the growing need for attainable housing for the Peninsula’s workers.

Robin Richardson, vice-president of operations at Scott Plastics will make a presentation at Tuesday’s tri-municipal council meeting.

“That [election] significantly changed the balance of power, specifically where North Saanich is concerned,” he said.

“There seems to be much more support from the North Saanich council,” Brown added. “In some ways the increase in interest and visibility is a function of the sense, on the part of the community, that now things are possible.”

At Scott Plastics, one employee commutes from Mill Bay and another from Cowichan. Seastar Chemicals lost a recruit from England who said the salary offered wasn’t enough to afford a home close to work.

The group of 12 estimate only one quarter of about 2,000 employees in the industrial area live in North Saanich or Sidney, according to their surveys. Therefore about 75 per cent of a $100 million payroll leaves the Peninsula daily to be spent elsewhere.

“People shop where they live. They’re shopping at Thrifty’s out in Colwood, not Sidney or Saanichton,” said Doug Taylor, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.

Retailers are missing out on that money while municipalities are forgoing big sums in tax revenue, Taylor said.

“I mean it’s just a no brainer. Municipalities can say we don’t want housing development or commercial development, but they’re cutting off their nose to spite their face.”

The 12 major employers say they’ve had a hard time cracking the shell of North Saanich, but that council’s balance of power shows them more favour since November. Richardson said five potential developments in the district are on their radar for attainable housing.

“I absolutely and completely understand that need,” Mayor Alice Finall said. “I completely support a genuine process to address those needs.”

Finall has long stated she doesn’t believe increased density equals affordable housing. The district needs to hear from employers how all parties can work together to ensure new units go to workers who need them.

“We haven’t seen a proposal for a plan so that they might ensure that this housing would become workforce housing. It would be really useful for councillors to know what steps they’re taking. All they’ve done is express the need, but how do we address the need in a genuine way to reach the people we’re trying to reach?”

Asked whether she might propose working with employers to achieve workforce housing in a proposed development at Canora and East Saanich roads, Finall said, “Of course there’s that kind of possibility and it’s something that can be raised at council. If council agrees to it … staff can only do as council directs.”

The tri-municipal council meeting happens Tuesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. at the Mary Winspear Centre and is open to the public. Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich councils will discuss issues that affect all three municipalities, including housing.

 

Share your situation

Two surveys are currently underway to study where Peninsula employees reside.

The 12 industrial employers are conducting their own. The Peninsula Chamber is conducting the other. A link to it can be found at peninsulanewsreview.com, on the right hand side, halfway down. Click the black button that says “Workforce Housing Survey.”

 

Employers seek solutions

Twelve major employers west of the highway say they’d be willing to help employees secure workforce housing.

They’ve seen examples of employers helping with down payments for employees who sign on for long term employment.

 

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