A City of Victoria proposal of a regional funding plan to end homelessness calls for a levy of $11 per household per year through the Capital Regional Hospital District.
“Housing is not something that municipalities should take on,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, also the co-chair of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. “But in the absence of leadership from the federal government, residents of the region can no longer sit by as people – particularly those with mental health and addictions issues – suffer on our streets.”
The plan to re-engage other levels of government who used to concern themselves with housing is a good one, says Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.
“What (the City of Victoria initiative is) trying to do is reconstitute a partnership between local governments, the CRD, the province and the federal government,” Jensen said. “Housing the homeless is a priority for the CRD and this initiative I think has a lot of potential. It still requires the buy-in from the federal and provincial government.”
The proposal is that the Capital Regional Hospital District serve as the lead agency, in partnership with social service providers and local, provincial and federal authorities, to build 367 units of new housing with supports, which the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness estimates to be the number of chronic shelter users requiring housing. They would request the federal government contribute toward the capital costs of the 367 units to reduce or eliminate the need for local contribution, consistent with the Government of Canada’s traditional role supporting the housing needs of Canadians.
The proposal requests that the provincial government contribute $7.73-million annually in operating costs toward the support services required to assist the “hardest to house” in maintaining stable housing, a model that currently exists in several buildings funded by the province around the Capital Region operated by the Victoria Cool Aid Society and the Pacifica Housing Society.
Oak Bay, and many communities in the region, already contribute funding to a Regional Housing Trust in similar small-scale partnerships.
“The majority of the CRD municipalities are involved in the Regional Housing Trust where we pay into the trust fund and that money is levered into partnerships with other agencies including the province, the federal government and non-profit organizations,” Jensen said.
“Our dollar can turn into $5 or as much as $12 and that’s done by creating these partnerships.
“A collaborative approach to dealing with an issue that is so important is the only way forward,” Jensen said. “That is the best, and arguably the only way, forward to make these projects a success.”
Victoria’s proposal for a regional housing strategy arose from public outcry over micro-housing and temporary tenting areas suggested to ease the homeless populations. “What we need in Canada at the federal level is a housing strategy. Most Western European countries have a housing strategy which aims to ensure there’s housing for the homeless, affordable housing, rent geared to income housing … That has to come from the top,” Jensen said. “There has been great reluctance to wrestle that. It is a priority for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and it really is an important aspect of our society that we have plans in place to ensure that everyone has access to proper housing. It really is central to who we are as Canadians to have that as a value.”