Regional Housing Affordability Explored

I attended the workshop last week, “Affordable Housing for BC’s Capital Region:  Tools for the Future,” co-sponsored with the Victoria Real Estate Board.  Discussion was generated by a panel of local housing experts including Kay Melliship of the Greater Victoria Housing Society, Matthew Baldwin, Planner, Municipality of Langford and Bill Patterson, Developer and Owner of CITTA Construction.

While there was some debate about defining what “affordable” means, I believe it depends on such variables as community context, income, demographics and housing type.  Regardless of how it is defined, it is well known that housing affordablility in the Capital Region is a major challenge for people living and working here.  It also impacts local economic development and long term community sustainability.

Highlights of an interim report prepared by the region’s Community Social Planning Council, in cooperation with partners, were discussed and the report is available through the CRD. The following observations are based on my workshop notes:

  • research methodologies included an online survey to all municipalities in May/June, policy scan, focus groups and interviews with planners.
  • purpose of project was to better understand how local governments are working on sustainable, affordable housing.
  • context shows that affordability in the region has declined by 9%, largely due to housing costs.
  • rental demand in capital region projected to increase by over 21% over the next 25 years.
  • core housing need projected to increase by 19% to 27% over the same time period.
  • lower income rates are higher for rental housing and rental housing stock is deteriorating faster than it can be built.

During the course of research and analysis, stakeholder consultations revealed some key elements to affordable housing policy, strategies and partnerships that local governments can explore:

  • conducting a government-owned land inventory.
  • developing multi-sector partnerships.
  • creating a flexible policy environment.
  • removing barriers related to permitting processes.
  • establishing process certainty for developers.
  • developing local incentives such as deferring/exempting development fees and taxes to reward innovation.
  • providing a range of housing options that is inclusive and encourages people to stay in their communities and others to choose to live in our communities.
  • providing workforce housing for medium income earners that increases choice and encourages local economic development).
  • enhancing the role of the CRD in supporting local communities related to affordable housing.

Communities are encouraged to support non-profit/rental housing and an effective regional housing strategy through such initiatives as:

  • support tenant-cooperative conversions.
  • develop municipally-owned rental properties.
  • create partnerships with non-profit housing groups.
  • inventory/develop public lands.
  • explore use of a Community Investment Fund.
  • develop demonstration projects.
  • encourage knowledge and cooperation.
  • use housing agreements.
  • use conversion/demolition controls.
  • enact alternative development standards.
  • enact/enforce standards of maintenance for rental housing.
  • encourage/develop collaboration between/among municipalities on housing.

Panel Discussion Highlights:

Panelists were asked what they need to make it possible to build affordable housing.  Here are some elements they identified:

  • municipalities that have development approval processes that are streamlined and well managed and encourage innovative housing options.
  • financial partnerships that focus on foregoing profit.
  • low interest rates and construction costs.
  • patient land vendors.
  • design team that understands the product.
  • operating subsidies.
  • no one solution.
  • rental conversions most viable in older communities because they can be tax exempted.
  • create building incentives.

Affordable housing is possible when communities:

  • densify.
  • create multi-family housing options.
  • value inclusiveness.
  • create a whole integrated community vision.
  • welcome diversity that includes a mix of owners and renters.
  • embrace secondary suites and other forms of rental housing (carriage houses, apartments with suites and other accessory buildings).
  • acknowledge the benefits of alternate and affordable forms of housing that build a sense of community and future.