A community leader laments the absence of explicit funding for affordable housing in Saanich’s budget.
“The largest item missing from the budget is dedicated funds set aside to support affordable housing,” said Teale Phelps Bondaroff. A former councillor candidate, Bondaroff is involved in a number of local initiatives and organizations.
He says Saanich has failed to identify appropriate land in order to take advantage of generous provincial programs, such as those offering free modular housing.
Last September, Saanich offered a piece of municipal land near Municipal Hall for supportive modular housing, but the provincial government deemed the land unsuitable. Both sides have held their last official meeting in October 2018, but the municipality has said that it has continued to search for suitable land).
That’s insufficient for Bondaroff, who is calling on Saanich to step up efforts.
“Funds should be set aside in order to acquire land for this purpose or modifying existing land to meet requirements to take advantage of programs offered by the provincial government,” he said.
“It is worrisome that the word ‘affordable housing’ appears only once in the budget and that no funds have been specifically set aside to plan for future programs and projects. This is a huge oversight. Given the importance of this issue to Saanich residents, it is something that [council] must address.”
The issue of affordable housing dominated last year’s municipal election against the backdrop of the homeless camp that sprung up in Regina Park last year and housed more than 100 residents. Almost 25 per cent of Saanich’s resident have since identified housing as the top issue facing Saanich, according to most recent edition of Saanich’s citizen survey.
A total of forty-seven per cent of respondents told the survey that they were either “not very satisfied” (32 per cent) or “not all satisfied” (15 per cent) with Saanich’s current policies for encouraging affordable housing. Forty-two per cent said they were “somewhat satisfied” with 11 per cent saying they “were satisfied.”
Several members of council including Mayor Fred Haynes have explicitly promised to make affordable housing a priority over the course of their term, and Saanich councillors are currently debating a number of additions to the draft budget that promise to increase the supply of affordable housing by improving planning and development permit processing times.
Council will also consider other initiatives such as legalizing garden suites, which the municipality defines as “detached” houses located in rear yards of single-family lots, where they serve as an “accessory” to primary dwellings.
Several housing projects, some including affordable components, are also underway, with likely none more relevant than the $250-million Nigel Valley Project, whose implementation, started by the previous council, will likely take years.