Al Smith, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, says having more modestly priced housing in the area would help it attract and keep workers in the face of an aging workforce. (Photo courtesy of Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce)

Al Smith, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, says having more modestly priced housing in the area would help it attract and keep workers in the face of an aging workforce. (Photo courtesy of Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce)

Better housing options needed, says Saanich Peninsula chamber boss

Al Smith says higher density in certain areas could lead to housing that workers could afford

The executive director of the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce is calling on local governments to do more to increase the supply of affordable housing for entry-level workers.

“The chamber would urge all of the municipalities to tackle density in the fastest way they can, get rid of bureaucracy that gets in the way of getting those things done, and align themselves on a Peninsula-wide strategy on how they are going to develop more housing for the working employee to be able to continue having the lifestyle we all enjoy on the Peninsula,” Al Smith told Black Press Media in an interview.

Smith raised the related issues of housing, transportation and demographics at a breakfast meeting with local entrepreneurs last month.

Unless the Peninsula can create more affordable housing fast in the face of an aging workforce, few, if any, entry-level workers will be able to afford to live in the region, he said. This will pose a challenge, he added, because workers will have to come from elsewhere, driving up their costs, which could ultimately trickle down to residents as consumers.

Higher development density would help create less expensive housing for people, Smith said, noting that it is “the big issue out here because generally, the residents don’t seem to want it. They care more about their property values going up than they care about supporting younger demographics that they need in order to work in their coffee shops and restaurants and grocery stores.”

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Opponents of the higher density necessary for lower-income housing will contribute to driving up housing costs over the next 20 years, he said, but “maybe they are OK with that because there is a lot of money on the Peninsula.”

Smith said the region’s councils and mayors are trying hard to solve the complex problems of housing affordability and transportation, which are not new. This said, solutions are not coming fast enough in the face of the region’s aging demographics. “That’s the challenge,” he said.

Improvements in those two areas would go a long way toward enticing younger people to live on the Peninsula, he said. “Younger demographics want to live in a place where they can stretch their money as far as they can.”

As housing costs increase, workers are going to want to work closer to home, said Smith. “That is going to naturally push their jobs … into areas where affordability is higher for living and transportation.”

But Smith does not see existing businesses leaving the Peninsula in search of places with better housing options. “I see there is a lot of talk about, ‘hey, it’s getting expensive to be here,’” he said. “And that could lead to businesses – new businesses – to set up where the workers are and where they want to be.”


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wolfgang.depner

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