Attending just my second annual Union of B.C Municipalities conferences last week in Victoria, it was remarkable to see the leadership of Saanich council come up big on some key issues of the day. Of five resolutions, four received the overwhelming support of the mayors and councillors from across B.C. These will now be sent as UBCM recommendations to our provincial and federal counterparts. The fifth one timed out on the floor and returned to the UBCM executive for further review.
As well, the UBCM accepted the request for two panel sessions for conversations with industry leaders on the arrival of the new app-enabled, global shared economy. In result, two panel sessions and five resolutions.
While addressing the needs of our Saanich residents, the resolutions were seen as significant to issues across B.C. and Canada. As a result, the UBCM adopted resolutions from Saanich councillors on abandoned or derelict boats, the crisis of marketplace housing supply and costs, the need to enable our seniors to better age in place and the need to improve energy efficiency in older homes. They also enthusiastically supported a special resolution requesting the province work to find solutions to the crisis in student housing across B.C.
This had not been a topic at UBCM before. Locally, some 38,000 students attend the University of Victoria and Camosun College. UVic has some 2,700 units of student accommodation. Camosun has none. As a result some 35,300 students require housing in our region. This impacts our entire rental market. Some local students can reside at home, the majority cannot. The arrival of AirBnB has caused additional constraints.
For the two panel sessions, one was on short-term rental platforms, such as AirBnb. The other was on the new ride sourcing technologies, such as Uber. The panels recognized two aspects. First, the clear benefits of app technology for improved customer service and economic efficiencies. Second, the concerns arriving from global industrial business capabilities entering the streets of municipalities. In altering the economic balance of our communities, will these multinationals gobble up jobs and housing? How do we help ensure the benefits arrive, and avoid the negatives?
Our successful resolution on derelict vessels requested that the federal and provincial governments proceed with an “abandoned and derelict vessel program” plus establish an “end of life” disposal system. These would be funded through fees from vessel purchase, registration, insurance and moorage.
On housing, our resolution on home renovation tax credits for costs over $1,000 urged our senior governments to create new tax credit programs that will encourage home renovations that improve mobility and aging in place for seniors, as well as the energy efficiency of older houses. A second resolution requested senior governments engage qualified third parties to undertake cost-benefit analyses on the affordability impact of building codes applied for the energy efficiency and safety of large homes being added automatically to those for homes under 2,000 square feet. The significant extra costs will be amplified through mortgages, and need to be understood and justified.
Unfortunately time ran out to address our resolution to reduce the impacts on housing affordability by lowering the property transfer tax on new and existing homes. This now goes to the UBCM executive for review. However, this was approved at the annual meeting of Association of Vancouver Island Costal Communities in April this year. At AVICC it was amended to have PTT lowered on homes under $1 million. Hopefully the UBCM executive will recommend similarly.
As a rookie councillor I have learned these policy processes take time. For example, these three resolutions on housing costs from Saanich were moved at council in early 2015. They were then supported at the Capital Regional District in August 2015. Consequently, these past 22 months, I have come to appreciate that the processes and politics to deliver successful local government legislation take consultation and patience.
By example, a disappointment at UBCM was the loss by a very close margin of support for the resolution from the Highlands to use the deposits from unredeemed container bottles to help protect green space and our natural environment. Nicknamed “Pop for Parks”, it recommended the $10-$15 million per year in unredeemed deposits, over and above the cost of the recycling program, be applied to parks. Unfortunately, we were unable to build the case with our delegate colleagues.
The motto for the 2016 UBCM convention was “Stronger Together”. Clearly, when we work together, as a region, building support across the province for solutions that address the needs of our residents, we achieve success. I feel privileged to be a part of helping to deliver this.
Fred Haynes is a Saanich councillor.