Close to Home

The current “housing shortage” in Greater Victoria continues to be a hot topic for all levels of government.

In Oak Bay, for example, Mayor and Council want a housing plan and have already completed studies on housing needs and are completing public engagement on infill housing and nearing completion on secondary suites. This work has been a pathway to regulating secondary suites as a form of accessible housing and a rental option. Oak Bay is one of the last municipalities in the region to formally recognize secondary suites as part of its housing stock. This despite over 700 suites known to exist within its neighbourhoods.

Just a few months ago, Oak Bay’s vacancy rate was about 0.02%, compared to 1.04% in the region. These figures, combined with Oak Bay’s limited options for housing, intensifies the struggle to find suitable accommodation. This is especially true for rental accommodation.

How do I know? Well, the housing crunch hit close to home, as I watched an older family member struggle to find another home in a rental market that could be described as “cruel.” Struggling with a shortage of rental alternatives and high housing costs in Oak Bay, I also know that she is not alone; this struggle affects everyone, especially those in the middle to lower income bracket.

After renting a small house for over a decade, she felt comfortable and secure. The owner lived outside Victoria and was kind and generous to my family member, who was an equally wonderful tenant, often described by her neighbours as “the heart of our street.” That old saying “home is where the heart is” is also true, a special place that anchors us to our community.

But in September 2019, she received an email that she never saw coming. The message was simple — the owner was putting the house up for sale and she would have to vacate by the following March. It was devastating news and neighbours, family and friends rallied around to support her. While she has good pension income, she does not have the capital to buy a home.

An added barrier to finding a new rental situation is a pet. In this case, she has a dog, who is a loving and constant companion when one is living alone. Facing the scary reality of a move, she began to reach out to friends and neighbours to find a rental that would take a dog. As luck would have it, she finally found a situation that is dog-friendly, still in her community and not far from her old neighbourhood.

The anguish over housing, given that our sense of place and belonging hinge on where family, friends or neighbours live, ultimately defines our quality of life. Thanks to help from a good friend, my family member is one of the lucky ones to find an alternative. But sadly, for many, the outcomes are not as happy, as accessible housing options continue to be a key issue in Oak Bay and in so many other communities.

The future vitality and strength of communities are directly linked to their ability to encourage and support a diversity of housing, residents and services; these elements are inextricably connected. Providing accessible housing stock is also the lynchpin to a sustainable community.