Letter: Community-driven housing strategy needed now

Oak Bay must develop a multi-year strategy to address housing pressure

Oak Bay is now, more than ever, facing two major challenges: housing pressures from inside and from outside, and heritage and character are being lost by the minute. Unlike other municipalities, we lack a strong multi-year housing strategy.

The Official Community Plan gives us a few clues on possible housing options as we grow, but it truly does nothing to give council, city staff and residents concrete steps on how to deal with these challenges over time in a concrete, realistic and sustainable way.

The municipality is now embarking on an  “infill strategy.” In theory, infill was endorsed by you and me. This is an important caveat but, for the sake of not losing track of my point here, I’ll leave it at that.

Infill has been a controversial topic. For me, it’s been a two-fold wake-up call.

First, our council definitely needs to think and act long-term, particularly when it comes to housing. Secondly, residents need to understand that – fortunately or unfortunately – development, the elephant in the room, is here.

We can no longer afford to remain passive, waiting for the miracle to come. Life is dynamic.

The pressures we face are real, and they will probably not go away. Thousands of people are now in position to sell an ordinary house in Vancouver, go for early retirement, buy a piece of heaven on earth with the balance and voila!

I did that, a few of my new neighbours have just done that, and others are considering doing the same. Does this mean I buy into the notion of over-development and destruction of our heritage and character? Absolutely not.

I moved into this community because of its very character. I proudly renovated my old house myself. My point is: development is real and must be properly planned for.

Oak Bay is much more vulnerable without a housing strategy. A solid one can and must bring about concrete incentives for developers and homeowners to preserve character and heritage, and guide our long-term housing needs and wants. An infill strategy alone will not do that.

I am not demonizing infill. I am just saying it is unwise to proceed without first coming up with a well-thought-out, long-term housing plan.

Infill is just one type of housing arrangement, one that works differently and serves different purposes in different places. In my opinion, in Oak Bay it may create more problems than solve the housing affordability dilemma some claim it will. In the real world, infill does little or nothing to address the housing needs of the elderly and the Boomers who are already in our community – and want to stay in the community. To be fair, infill may provide some source of accommodation for students and vacationers willing to enjoy Canada at its best.

Although I’m in my late 40s, I want the 80-plus-year-old version of me to stay put in this community. I may or may not live in the house I own now but I will not be living in a converted garage or basement suite when I am in my 80s. Most people I talk to wouldn’t either.

At that point in our life, if we need to move out of our single-family nest, most would rather live in a decent one or two-bedroom apartment, ideally close to amenities, grocery stores etc.

A housing strategy will enable council and the community to make decisions today that will make sense and prepare the grounds for what we will build tomorrow, next month, next year and so on, and for whom.

On the other hand, I see that council has gotten caught in a web of piecemeal priorities, allowing itself and staff to implement the OCP in a random and non-strategic way. Although I do recognize and fully appreciate the effort of council and staff trying to juggle such complex issues, I urge both, and municipal committees, to start making housing-related decisions based on the long-term demographic.

I’ve come to realize that quite a few of us know what we don’t want for Oak Bay.  The question is: do we know what we want? If the answer is “no” or “I don’t care,” then I urge you to change your attitude.

Time has come to unite and engage with council and staff to demand action and help create concrete solutions, even if that requires some nagging. Offer your best support and hold the mayor and council accountable. A community-driven housing strategy is needed now.

James Sultanum

Oak Bay

 

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