Saanich’s annual report shows the value of commercial and industrial building permits reached $28.4 million in 2017 — almost $12 million short of the $40 million target.

Saanich fails to meet commercial building permit goals

A new draft report shows Saanich is making progress in the area of affordable housing, while lagging behind in commercial activity.

According to the draft of the 2017 Annual Report from the District of Saanich, the community has 5,681 “social and affordable housing units” — 69 units short of its own stated goal of 5,750 or more units. Technically, this figure means that Saanich has failed to meet its own standard, but the shortfall represents a minuscule share of the overall figure.

Critics, of course, could easily contend that the goal lacks ambition under current circumstances, which demand drastic actions in light of new statistics.

According to the 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index, 45 per cent of Saanich households spent more than 30 per cent of their income on rent and utilities. The figure for the Capital Regional District is 44 per cent. This figure increases to 76 per cent for the lowest income group in the region. Social scientists consider housing to be affordable if households spends less than 30 per of its before-tax income on rent plus utilities.

Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich’s director of planning, said partnerships with and funding from the senior spheres of government are key to building social and affordable housing.

“Obviously the need for more social and affordable housing is an issue of concern in many communities across [British Columbia] and Canada, and requests for support from the federal and provincial governments are significant,” she said. “Saanich will continue to work at the local level on initiatives such as secondary suites, gardens suites, application processing times, comprehensive zoning measures, utilizing Saanich’s Housing Affordability fund, and regionally through the CRD and its many housing initiatives.”

If Saanich came close to meeting its affordability goals, the annual report also shows that the total value of commercial and industrial building permits reached $28.4 million in 2017 — almost $12 million short of the $40 million that the report identifies as a target.

This figure gives new fuel to the often-heard argument that Saanich needs to do more to attract business and Saanich’s annual report does more than hint at this agenda. For example, it sets the goal of increasing the share of Saanich’s commercial, industrial, and institutional area to 35 per cent or greater by 2036. It currently sits at 28.3 per cent.

The finding, however, comes with a major caveat.

“The District of Saanich is not able to control or adjust any shortfall in order to increase revenues [from building permits],” said Graham Barbour, manager of inspection and bylaw services.

Or put differently, larger economic forces (largely) outside the direct control of the municipality shape economic activity, although Saanich has promised to speed up the permitting process.

Council accepted the report without debate Monday. The public can now comment on it and council will discuss it in additional June 18.

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