Re: Housing alternatives needed, Oak Bay News, May 25
I am still trying to get my head around the letter writer’s opinions. The writer states infill is only “technically in violation of municipal bylaws.”
Firstly, I had no idea we get to choose which bylaws we want to follow. More importantly, there is no recognition of the lost tax revenue that likely accompanies many of these unreported garage and basement suites. Collectively, given the population numbers and applied to whole municipalities, it is not an insignificant amount.
Addressing the reference to the higher moral ground, packing people into unregulated garages and basements and having your neighbours pay for the municipal services and enforcement programs for your renters, even if they are family, is not ethical behaviour. This hurts many more families and seniors without infill, who pay the resulting higher taxes.
While I believe the majority of residents would agree more housing alternatives can be provided – this is not the issue.
The problem is with the development industry’s practices and the B.C. government’s building standards. The former builds to maximize profits and the latter allows building materials that are not durable to be used. Liberal municipal zoning allowances are also a big factor, as Oak Bay is currently finding out with the overbuilding, demolitions, tree and heritage loss.
So what’s the solution? Stand-alone townhomes with design standards, not crowded onto single-family lots, would be a start. Regulating and adequately taxing any infill unit would be another. The United Kingdom faced the same situation. It now applies a two-property tax system when an infill unit is added. It has a strict, broad definition of separate living quarters and allows tax relief and exemptions for single renters or relatives. Annual business licenses are required for infill and the safety and living standards are closely monitored.
This system protects renters, provides additional funding for municipal services, infrastructure and the crucial, expensive enforcement programs and removes the tax burden from the majority of residents who do not have infill.
Unfortunately Oak Bay council is still at the tax increase stage. Inevitably, to keep making ends meet, user fees and service reductions will follow. Sooner or later we will need to go to a much more rational, humanistic and balanced approach.
Let’s hope it’s before too much more damage is done to our community.