I couldn’t help but chuckle as I read Coun. Judy Brownoff’s letter in the Nov. 30 Saanich News. While her claim that “Saanich supports [a] variety of housing options” certainly sounds good, what she actually means is that Saanich council supports the creation of non-market “affordable” units, in areas where it is politically expedient (and if you don’t satisfy the latter requirement, you can expect the Townley Lodge proposal’s fate).
The rest of us, who either don’t qualify for “affordable” rentals or simply wish to buy their own residence in Saanich are left to the vagaries of the free market and what housing stock is available. And what a free market. Prices have crept steadily upwards over the past few years to the point where it’s hard to deny that we’re in the midst of a housing crisis. The MLS benchmark price for a single-family house in Saanich East for October was a whopping $783,000.
And according to the 2011 census, Saanich’s housing stock is comprised of nearly 75 per cent single-family houses and duplexes. Where in the past a young family could buy a starter home for a reasonable price, now the likely option for a young family in Saanich is a townhouse, and yet according to the 2011 census, townhouses made up only seven per cent of Saanich’s overall housing stock. Why is this?
Well the answer to that question is that Saanich’s land use policies are set up to keep it this way. Of the 10 Local Area Plans (LAPs) in Saanich that cover non-rural areas, every single one contains a policy with a variation on this theme: “Maintain single family housing as the principal form of development” (Gordon Head LAP, p.17).
What this type of policy is doing, in effect, is slowly creating a polarized community where the wealthy live in their detached houses, and the rest of the people either settle for the subsidized rental housing, apartments on busy arterial roads, or they simply leave town. Is this the future we want for this community? Do we really want to take the “tough luck, but Langford’s that way” approach?
Saanich council needs to take a serious look at its existing land use policies, the role they play in making this community unaffordable for the average family, and to do it now. While non-market rentals are certainly part of the solution for one segment of the population, Saanich needs to recognize that it is no longer a suburb of Victoria, and keeping the majority of the community as low density single-family housing is a recipe for a Vancouver-style affordability crisis. Saanich needs to let its neighbourhoods evolve beyond single-family homes, and not just by taking the easy approach of putting apartments on busy arterial roads. A good start would be to allow townhouses to make up more than just seven per cent of our housing stock, and not relegate them to busy arterial streets where few will complain.