Whether it’s action on climate change, the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or the right to a healthy environment, Saanich Council has a track record of raising its voice to other levels of government on behalf of concerns expressed by its residents. Now, I believe it’s time we raise our collective voice on the issue of affordable housing, which is of critical and growing concern to our residents, the region and across the province and country.
Within Saanich, the lack of affordable housing is a pressing issue and one where actions by our Council and staff can have a positive impact. Municipalities are on the front line of working to deliver affordable housing for their residents.
So how do we create real change? I believe there are four routes available to work on affordable homes. First, within Saanich we can address administrative elements that reduce affordability at municipal hall. Second, by raising our municipal voice to the provincial and federal levels of government, we can help identify problem areas they can and need to address. Third, in working effectively with our development community, we can become stronger partners in building housing stock across Saanich. Fourth, by having two-way conversations with our residents on the affordability impacts we can control – building density, height, amenities, energy efficiency, transportation modes, etc. – we’re demonstrating that we are all in this together, and together we need to explore solutions.
On Monday (June 15), I brought forward two reports for Council to consider. One requests our provincial and federal counterparts create new tax credit programs to incentivize residents undertake home renovations. The second one requests the higher levels of government conduct a review by appropriate, independent third parties of National Building Codes for larger buildings that are being “downloaded” to smaller, two-storey homes under 2,000 sq. ft. This could be contributing negatively to housing affordability by driving up the price of affordable housing builds.
On June 22, I’m working to bring forward a report which urges the provincial government to reduce the negative impacts on home affordability caused by the Provincial Property Transfer Tax. The second report will support the recent recommendations to the province by Isobel Mackenzie, the B.C. Seniors Advocate. Mackenzie suggests that the 80 per cent of seniors who own their own homes could access the equity in their homes for repairs and renovations through an affordable loan structure. Each of these reports, if approved by a majority on council, will be either sent as letters to the Federal or Provincial Governments and locals MP’s and MLA’s or forwarded to the Union of B.C. Municipalities to garner further support.
I think we can all agree that a fundamental element of creating and maintaining a healthy, inclusive and sustainable community is the provision of a range of housing types that accommodate people of different ages, incomes, family structures and physical needs. From workplace housing to downsizing options for seniors, I plan to bring forward a series of reports on affordable housing for our municipality, residents and our partners in the development community to consider. Please contact me or attend the June 22 council meeting for comment or to get involved.
Fred Haynes is a councillor with the District of Saanich.