Three Greater Victoria municipalities find themselves among the first 10 communities subject to new housing targets being set by the provincial government.
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon announced the communities in the initial cohort of the province’s Housing Supply Act on Wednesday. The act gives the province the authority to set housing targets for municipalities, with Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay cracking the first list, largely joined by Lower Mainland centres plus Kamloops.
“Our government is eager to work with this first cohort of municipalities to get shovels in the ground faster and ensure the homes people need get built,” Kahlon said, adding the housing reality is hurting people and holding back B.C.’s economy.
“Municipalities are our critical partners in addressing the housing crisis and building healthy, economically viable communities.”
The act encourages municipalities – starting with ones the province says have the greatest need and highest projected growth – to build more housing by knocking down barriers, including updating zoning bylaws and streamlining development approval processes.
Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto welcomed her city being on the list, saying the capital’s housing policies are more aggressive than what the province wants to see.
“I’m absolutely thrilled, I think I have been pretty obvious in my lobbying to be included in that first wave,” Alto said outside City Hall.
The mayor said housing barriers include discomfort from neighbourhoods that have stayed the same for a long time but also municipal regulations that “may or may not be necessary any longer.”
“As we move into a place to create housing at every conceivable opportunity, it’s our job to make that as easy as possible,” Alto said. “The city that we have enjoyed for so long is changing and let’s take a hand and make sure we design it properly.”
Victoria is just coming off the lengthy process of approving its missing middle initiative – a key part of the city’s plan that looks to boost the supply of smaller multi-unit homes across the capital.
“I’m not convinced that it’s going to produce anything near the result I had hoped for,” Alto said, adding she expects “not insignificant” changes being proposed during a missing middle policy review set for September.
Provincial housing targets under the act are expected to be released this summer. Victoria over the summer will look for unnecessary regulations it can trim and the mayor said the city is confident it will blow by the province’s expectations. She added there’s an expectation that communities be rewarded for meeting the province’s challenge.
Saanich being in the first cohort is good news for Mayor Dean Murdock, who said it means provincial support for meeting the district’s housing goals as his community is desirable for the many people flocking to the region.
“Saanich I think is well-positioned to respond to the province’s desire to set targets and to achieve and exceed those targets,” he said in an interview, pointing to previous moves to delegate some decisions to staff or offering municipal land for non-market projects.
Murdock said his community has already streamlined the housing approvals process and said getting the support of the housing ministry staff could help find more efficiencies, including allowing submissions to be reviewed electronically.
The district’s housing needs report found shortfalls in family-suitable homes – like three-bedroom, more affordable townhomes or multiplexes – and purpose-built rentals. Murdock said the constrained supply was the result of municipal processes along with certain housing types being rejected historically.
“We need to ensure that we’re creating livability in our community as well as creating more homes,” the mayor said, noting he wants to work with the province on also requiring access to more parks, transit and amenities. “Today’s announcement means that the province is a willing partner.”
In a statement, the District of Oak Bay said it welcomes collaborating with the province to “explore options for more diverse and affordable housing options that align with Oak Bay’s heritage and unique character.”
“As the smallest community of the 10 municipalities, capacity remains Oak Bay’s biggest challenge and the district looks forward to receiving and having the province as a partner to support reaching housing targets,” the statement said.
That capacity is evident in a motion coming forward from Mayor Kevin Murdoch centred around a 30-acre parcel of the University of Victoria lands – which reflects red tape issues the province is targeting. Ambiguity in the official community plan (OCP) adds barriers to how the lands can be developed, said Murdoch’s motion, which calls for an “impact analysis” on updating the OCP.
Asked why Oak Bay council couldn’t vote directly on whether or not it would update the OCP to allow housing or development on the UVic land, a district spokesperson said the impact analysis is used when new projects could impact staff capacity or budgets.
“If council opts to proceed with the new project, the impact analysis identifies which projects are then removed or postponed.”
– With files from Wolf Depner