A Saanich councillor said he expects that a housing forum initially scheduled for early May will now happen in June, if not the end of May.
“Taking some extra time to plan the housing forum isn’t a big deal,” said Coun. Zac de Vries. “It is a minor delay in the grand scheme of things and I expect we will hold the forum in June, if not the end of May.”
He made these comments after council asked staff to prepare a report into the proposed forum after staff told council that they would not have time to procure a facilitator in time for May 4 — the tentatively scheduled date for the proposed forum. Council will consider the report May 6.
The process leading up to the forum has been the subject of controversy after Coun. Nathalie Chambers earlier this week made comments that questioned the events leading up to it.
“This item [the housing forum] was not a resolution by council,” said Chambers. “It was an initiative formed outside of council. It was not in the public eye. We did not debate it. I did not approve the housing forum.”
De Vries, who is part of an informal working group on housing that includes Mayor Fred Haynes, as well as Couns. Susan Brice and Rebecca Mersereau, questioned the suggestion that the process was secretive.
“Secretive?” he asked. “It is not secretive as a councillor to develop an idea, in this case a vision for a housing forum, and bring it in a report to a public meeting for open discussion. If we are going to address the pressing issues facing our community councillors need to exercise agency, develop ideas and bring them to the council chambers,” he said. “[That] is the process.”
Saanich, he said, would not be in a housing crisis, if current “policies, understandings, and practices” were sufficient to address the housing crisis.
“This forum is about the first of many dialogues about housing, and was designed to generate new ideas and understandings about how we can address the housing crisis from community and industry expertise,” he said.
He added that the forum would not be decision-making body, but rather a place for news ideas to emerge.
“[If] they met the test, they would be acted on in addition to existing documents,” he said. The [Urban Containment Boundary], [Official Community Plan], [Local Area Plans], and action plans are part of our policy framework. The forum would be the first discussion about potential additions to that framework.”
He also noted that the forum is bringing together all the key stakeholders in housing, including 32 community association members, dozens of representatives from relevant government agencies and non-profits, and maybe five developers, those who do the most volume in Saanich.
“It does not make sense to exclude developers from the discussion, that is not pragmatic,” he said.
Saanich’s current path has not been able to deliver affordability, he said.
“So I am turning to the community to look for solutions.”