A BC Transit bus heads south along Douglas Street near Finlayson Street. Transit, along with housing, were among the big winners in the 2018 provincial budget. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Saanich leaders praise 2018 provincial budget

Local municipal leaders are praising those elements of the 2018 provincial budget that address housing and transit.

The New Democratic minority government of Premier John Horgan last week announced a series of measures to improve the provincial housing stock. They include a pledge to build 114,000 new homes at a cost of $6 billion over the next 10 years, and tax changes effective immediately designed to curb real estate speculation and off-shore buying of real estate.

The provincial government will also allow colleges and universities to borrow money to build new student housing, with a $450-million program to finance 5,000 new beds.

Both Mayor Richard Atwell and Coun. Fred Haynes agreed that this measures will ease the pressure on student housing in Saanich, home to both the University of Victoria and Camosun College.

Haynes, a director on the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, said the $450-million program marks an “immense” step forward. “Student housing is a pressing current issue,” he said. The majority of students attending both UVic and Camosun live in the community, yet both institutions want to build more on-campus student housing, to the benefit of the community-at-large.

UVic’s plans for 600 new units and 160 renovated units would have the effect of opening up 600 rental units in the community, said Haynes. “So it can be seen as a double win,” he said.

Atwell agrees. “In the short term with additional housing for first year university students proposed, I expect it will agree increase the availability of secondary suites, and bedrooms that are currently in short supply,” he said. “In the long-term, we need to build more [affordable] housing units.”

One of the key provisions of the budget is the expansion of the foreign buyers’ tax to 20 per cent from 15 per cent, and its administrative extension into the Capital Regional District, including Saanich, along with other areas (Nanaimo, the Fraser Valley and Central Okanagan).

Both Atwell and Haynes suggest it is too early what, if any effect this tax will have on Saanich. “Hopefully, the government has thought this through, and no loopholes will appear to negative its effectiveness,” said Atwell in suggesting a wait-and-see approach.

Haynes said the increases might not have much impact on Saanich housing. “The market of non-resident buyers may have already adjusted to this. Let’s wait and see.”

Saanich needs to increase the supply of all housing types for Saanich to improve housing accessibility and affordability, Haynes said. “Keys to this include improved efficiencies in the development application and outcome processes,” he said, adding that the municipality is currently studying this subject.

The budget also includes a two-cent increase in the regional gas tax. The Victoria Regional Transit Commission (VRTC) has been lobbying for the increase for years.

Coun. Susan Brice, who chairs the VRTC, praised the announcement as a move that will benefit the Greater Victoria region. “The decision from the [province] to increase the gas tax allows the VRTC to move forward with long needed service and transit infrastructure improvements,” she said.

The increase promises to raise around $7 million for transit funding annually. Other funding sources include property taxes and transit fares.

“For both housing and transit, this was a good budget,” said Haynes.

Atwell said it will take several years for the governing New Democrats to follow through on promises that they had made nearly two decades.

“So far, I would say they are off to a very good start,” he said.

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