I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who attended and participated in our recent town hall on housing and affordability. We were lucky to have a diverse range of panelists bring their own perspectives and insights to our discussion about the complex challenges facing our housing market. In the Q&A period following the presentations, audience members provided their personal perspectives on how the housing and affordability crisis has affected them, asked a number of insightful questions and offered some creative potential solutions – a selection of which I’d like to highlight here. It was a lively and informative discussion. A more detailed breakdown of our panelists and what they covered can be found on my website (andrewweavermla.ca).
Many of the panelists and audience members spoke about their concerns regarding our tight rental market and the impact it is having on our community. Some seniors talked about being worried they won’t be able to afford to “age in place” if they are priced out of their communities and many others described how low income individuals and families are shouldering unsustainable stress concerning their precarious rental situations.
To start, as an essential step in addressing the local affordable rental housing shortage the province should reverse its stance on preventing universities from acquiring self-supporting debt to build more on-campus housing. Student housing is relatively cheap to build and would play an important role in easing the pressure on the rental market, creating space for those who may be currently in unaffordable housing or squeezed out of the market all together. There is a high demand for student housing and the Alliance of BC Students estimates that universities in BC need to double their stock of student housing to meet the need.
The provincial government could also offer support for co-housing or blended housing that would allow seniors to stay in their homes longer, while providing an affordable rental option for low-income individuals, families or students who could share their space and assist with housework, as one audience member suggested.
On the municipal level there are a number of tools that can be used to address the housing crisis, these include:
• Removing re-zoning requirements for garden and laneway housing;
• Reviewing housing reserve fund guidelines for grants to developers of affordable housing projects
• Supporting the conversions of older hotels/motels to housing units;
• Establishing land trusts in which municipalities contribute publicly-owned land at no cost or at a reduced market value for the development of affordable housing projects;
• Removing minimum unit size requirements and reducing parking requirements for units;
• Demanding more from developers, such as higher percentages of affordable units to meet community need.
The City of Victoria has already implemented some of these measures and is considering more, such as “an inclusionary housing density bonus policy” where new housing has to represent the income distribution of the area in which it is built.
An important action we should all take, as pointed out by panelists, is to attend council meetings to express our thoughts on community development. This is especially essential when we are in favour of proposed affordable housing projects as it is often those opposed to changes who have the loudest voices.
As always, my office welcomes input from others who have further suggestions or concerns. I am grateful for the commitment and ongoing concern so many in our community are giving to this crucial issue facing our province.
Andrew Weaver is MLA for the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head and leader of the B.C. Green Party.