Housing
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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Local governments need to step up on affordable and supportive housing, non-profit coalition says

Calls to action outline six “very tangible steps” municipalities can take to increase and retain affordable housing

By Shannon Waters
September 23, 2022
Housing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Local governments need to step up on affordable and supportive housing, non-profit coalition says

Calls to action outline six “very tangible steps” municipalities can take to increase and retain affordable housing

By Shannon Waters
Sep 23, 2022
From left: Kathy Stinson, CEO of Cool Aid Society; Julian Daly, CEO of Our Place; Carolina Ibarra, the CEO of Pacifica Housing; Victoria Holden, executive director the Greater Victoria Housing Society; and Corinne Saad, executive director of the Gorge View Society. Photo: Shannon Waters / Capital Daily
From left: Kathy Stinson, CEO of Cool Aid Society; Julian Daly, CEO of Our Place; Carolina Ibarra, the CEO of Pacifica Housing; Victoria Holden, executive director the Greater Victoria Housing Society; and Corinne Saad, executive director of the Gorge View Society. Photo: Shannon Waters / Capital Daily
Housing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Local governments need to step up on affordable and supportive housing, non-profit coalition says

Calls to action outline six “very tangible steps” municipalities can take to increase and retain affordable housing

By Shannon Waters
September 23, 2022
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Local governments need to step up on affordable and supportive housing, non-profit coalition says
From left: Kathy Stinson, CEO of Cool Aid Society; Julian Daly, CEO of Our Place; Carolina Ibarra, the CEO of Pacifica Housing; Victoria Holden, executive director the Greater Victoria Housing Society; and Corinne Saad, executive director of the Gorge View Society. Photo: Shannon Waters / Capital Daily

With housing affordability at crisis levels across Greater Victoria, a coalition of local non-profit housing providers are calling on candidates for local government to get serious about tackling the issue.

“We really have two options: we either take decisive steps to start addressing the issue and solving it, or it's going to continue growing,” said Carolina Ibarra, the CEO of Pacifica Housing.

The Vancouver Island Housing Leadership Network (VIHLN)—whose 14 members currently operate 6,000 housing units on Vancouver Island and are involved in building over 1,000 more—released six calls to action they say would help build new purpose-built affordable and supportive housing as well as retain existing stock across Greater Victoria.

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“We have 30 years of infrastructure deficit across the housing spectrum...and we have to start really seriously considering that we need more density and more supply across the board, otherwise, this issue will continue to grow,” said Victoria Holden, executive director the Greater Victoria Housing Society.

While plenty of mayor and council hopefuls are promising to prioritize policies aimed at addressing housing affordability, the calls to action outline “some very tangible steps” local politicians could take to make good on their campaign promises, according to Corinne Saad, executive director of the Gorge View Society.

“Talk about a commitment to affordable housing actually needs to translate into some really concrete actions and commitments,” she said. “That's what we're hoping to hear from candidates, those commitments that the community can then hold them accountable for once they're elected.”

Finding space and saving time: two major ways municipalities can support affordable housing

Housing is often seen as an issue more within the purview of the federal and provincial government than individual municipalities, but there are several areas where local policies could help non-profits build more housing more quickly, according to the network.

Providing municipally-owned land for affordable and supportive housing developments would be a huge help, according to Holden, who cited land acquisition as the “number one barrier” for non-profit housing providers.

Municipalities who put up public land for affordable housing can also benefit from federal and provincial programs and funding, magnifying the impact of land donation or lease arrangements. Holden also sees a role for the private sector to play.

“For non-profits, access to that land is kind of the gateway [to] us being able to build more. And it's a really, really important role that municipalities can play,” Holden said. “Also, helping us to gain partnerships with private developers and other types of private landowners—that's going to be a really key piece of us going forward and gaining access to the land so that we can bring some of that government funding home here to the CRD.”

Another of VIHLN’s calls to action would see local governments set up “housing centres” with a mandate to “shepherd affordable housing applications through municipalities,” as Saad put it.

“That will help us with time, and time is money,” she said. “The process right now costs non-profit organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars.” 

Local governments could also exempt housing developments backed by non-profits from property taxes and development cost charges, as well as community amenity obligations, such as cash contributions, public walkways, fountains, and other additions intended to benefit the municipality.

“We're providing a public amenity with affordable housing,” said Saad. “The way things are doesn't work—it's not getting the number of units of affordable housing [and] supportive housing built that we need.”

The City of Victoria’s Rapid Development of Affordable Housing Resources—which allows affordable housing projects by non-profit, government, or co-op housing organizations to skip the rezoning and public hearing process provided they align with the city’s official community plan—is an example VIHLN would like to see other municipalities follow.

“We're calling on other municipalities to follow that lead,” Saad said. “With these measures, we believe that the creation of new independent affordable safe and secure housing will be within our reach.”

Keeping existing affordable housing is key and purpose-built is better when it comes to supportive housing

In addition to taking steps to build more affordable housing, local governments need to consider ways to keep and maintain existing affordable housing as the current pace of development lags far behind what is needed, according to Holden.

“Research shows that we're losing five units of affordable rental housing in BC for every one unit of government-supported housing being built,” she said.

Retaining existing affordable housing “is as important as delivering new affordable units,” according to Ibarra, who said not all non-profit housing providers receive support from the federal government, making it difficult to keep rents low as costs rise.

“A lot of non-profit organizations have expiring operating agreements [with the province] and therefore covering operating costs will solely depend on rental income and increasing rents on turnover,” she said. “Increasing rents on turnover is not what anybody wants.”

Ibarra also urged local governments to advocate for supportive housing specifically built to properly meet the needs of the people it is meant to serve and to make things easier for providers.

“Supportive housing buildings that are not purpose-built pose challenges for operations, which include issues around health and safety,” she said. “They are more challenging to manage. What municipalities can do is support, promote, and frankly, demand that purpose-built supportive housing… comes to communities all across BC, and all across the Island.”

Supportive housing developments regularly face backlash from existing residents but Julian Daly, CEO of Our Place, said direct outreach can go a long way to addressing pushback from nervous neighbours.

“When we actually talk to them person to person, address their concerns, and explain to them … who was coming in, what kind of folk they were, and the circumstances, their fears, by and large, actually evaporated,” he said “They began to move from a place of seeing the folks that were coming in as other and people to be feared, to a place where they saw them as fellow citizens, fellow human beings, who simply wanted what they had, which was a home.”

The dire need for affordable housing can be seen in the proliferation of makeshift shelters and tents in parks and streets across Greater Victoria, Daly added.

“Those tents for many citizens represent an eyesore in a beautiful city, but for those people [in the tents] that is their affordable housing,” he said.

Better collaboration between municipalities, non-profits and health authorities would help ensure supportive housing residents have the services they need if they experience a crisis, per VIHLN’s fifth call to action.

The network also urges local governments to view VIHLN as a resource to help them “understand the complex challenges and barriers exacerbating” the current housing crisis and to work with them to advocate for support from the provincial and federal governments.

Article Author's Profile Picture
Shannon Waters
Municipal affairs reporter

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