Saanich seeks federal housing funds

Saanich Coun. Fred Haynes said the Greater Victoria region is ready to leverage some $60 million in local and provincial funding towards the national housing strategy announced last month. Saanich News file photo

The Greater Victoria region appears poised to benefit from the national housing strategy announced last month. But several questions, both specific and fundamental, remain.

“We have our matching monies in place, we have our organizations in place to receive and spend, and our organizations are in place that can effectively manage that housing,” said Coun. Fred Haynes, who is also a director on the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

Haynes made this comment after the federal government announced what it called its national housing strategy. It promises $11.2 billion to address the housing needs of 530,000 families and individuals by creating 100,000 new housing units, and repair another 300,000 over the coming decade, against the backdrop of rising housing costs, especially for working families. Federal officials claim investments from other spheres of government could bring total spending up to $40 billion.

Canada’s housing crunch has hit close to home in the Greater Victoria region. Local business leaders have consistently cited housing affordability – or the lack thereof – as an obstacle, and recent figures suggest their complaints will not cease. Earlier this month, the price of a single-family home in Greater Victoria surpassed $900,000, according to figures released by the Victoria Real Estate Board. Rents have also risen, according to data from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation. While the federal agency has recorded a rise in the overall vacancy rate to 0.7 per cent, the average rent in the region now stands at $1,072 – up 7.7 per cent from $994 in 2016.

While federal officials have promoted this national strategy with much fanfare, its specific impact on Greater Victoria is still emerging.

Haynes said Saanich – working through regional, provincial and national institutions – has played an important role in helping to secure this funding. Now the focus turns towards other questions, he said.

“As a region, how do we collaborate to ensure that we get what we could call our fair share of this federal money, and separately, how do we as a region accelerate the process, such that we can receive the money?” he asked.

The population of the Greater Victoria region accounts for about one per cent of Canada’s national population, said Haynes. Based on this figure, the region should ask for one per cent of the new housing units – so 1,000.

Since Saanich has about one third of the regional population, its per-capita share of the new units would be about 350, said Haynes. But other factors come into play as well. They include the location of jobs, regional differences in housing costs and supplies, transportation, socio-economics and environmental concerns. Cities of the future need to be compact, socially integrated, while environmentally sustainable, he said.

“So I would say that if you were to look at all the parameters, there would be an argument perhaps that most of this housing should come into the core,” he said.

Overall, Greater Victoria is ready to leverage some $60 million in combined regional and provincial funding, said Haynes. This said, one “weakness” of Ottawa’s approach is the timing of the program, with much of the money available after the next federal election.

A larger fundamental question also looms. “The question is would 1,000 homes in this area make a dent in that [housing affordability]?,” said Haynes. “This talks to the story that it is still not enough. The problem is so big.”

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