Categories
Affordability

Victoria Council Election: Questions for Candidates

Victoria will have a bi-election December 12

A Candidate Profile Guide containing information submitted by each candidate will be available here on November 17.

Below is a short discussion of local affordability problems and solutions, and specific questions that you can use to evaluate candidates’ support policies that can help make our community more affordable and inclusive.

The problem

The Victoria region is an attractive, economically successful, healthy and resource-efficient place to live. Unfortunately, the region is unaffordable to many low- and moderate-income households due to its high housing prices. This leaves many families with excessive cost burdens, inadequate homes, or no homes at all. The Victoria Foundation’s recent Vital Signs report indicates that unaffordability, homelessness, and associated mental stress affect a large portion of our population.

What is affordability? A good rule of thumb is that families should spend no more than 45% of their household budget on housing and transportation combined.

Several types of housing are needed, including emergency shelters for people who currently lack homes, supportive and transition housing for people with special needs, subsidized housing for families with low incomes, and moderate-priced rental and owner occupied market housing (often called “workforce housing”) for families with moderate incomes.

An important priority is to eliminate homelessness. According to the 2020 Point in Time Homelessness and Housing Needs Survey there are approximately 1,500 homeless people in our region, including 270 who are unsheltered, 350 in emergency sheltered and at least 743 in transitional housing and institutions. The local governments and non-profit service providers are working to move some transition housing residents to more permanent homes, and offer rent top-ups to allow more homeless people to afford to homes. As a result, increasing the supply of lower-priced rental apartments is key to reduce homelessness and associated problems.

A key factor that drives up housing prices is that our housing supply has not increased with population growth. The CRD’s population currently grows about 1.5% per year, adding about 5,000 people annually. To accommodate this growth and drive down housing prices the region must add 2,000-4,000 new units annually.  While the region has added housing supply most new units are either downtown highrises or expensive single-family homes. To increase affordability our region must add far more moderate-priced ($200,000-600,000) new homes in walkable urban neighborhoods that are suitable for moderate-income families (those earning $50,000-100,000 annually). Housing experts call this “missing middle” housing. Even if these new homes are too expensive for low-income households, they help increase affordability as some occupants of lower-priced housing move into the new units, making them available to new occupants, and over the long run as the depreciate in value, adding to the stock of older, lower-priced homes.

Local solutions

A variety of local and regional policy actions can increase housing and transportation affordability in ways that also help achieve public health and environmental protection goals. The CRD Origin Destination Household Travel Survey, and the recent study, Housing and Transportation Cost Estimate Study 2020 for the Capital Regional District, show that people who live in more compact, walkable neighborhoods own fewer vehicles, drive significantly less, spend much less on transportation, produce far less pollution, and exercise more than they would in more automobile dependent areas. As a result, advocates for affordability, public health and climate protection recommend that cities like Victoria allow more compact, infill housing (more housing units within existing urban areas) so most regional population growth can occur in compact, walkable neighborhoods.

Eleven Municipal Actions and Questions

Below are eleven such actions, and specific questions to ask municipal candidates and policy makers to evaluate their commitment to local solutions to unaffordability, homelessness and environmental risks.

1. The City of Victoria has several programs to end homelessness, which includes partnerships with provincial and regional agencies, support for local non-profit service providers, and an extreme weather protocol to provide extra services when needed. The city also has a temporary policy to allow some people to shelter in some municipal parks, during COVID-19 pandemic, which includes specific rules concerning the types of shelters allowed, where camping is permitted, enforcement and community engagement. The city has a goal for this policy to end by next Spring.

Questions:

Do you support these programs and policies?

If not, what changes or additions do you proposes?

 

2. Some people, particularly those with disabilities, mental illness and low incomes, need subsidized housing. The CRD Regional Housing Trust Fund (RHTF) has leveraged tens of millions of private, local, provincial, and federal dollars to finance various housing projects, many based on “Housing First” principles.

Questions:

Do you support reducing, maintaining or increasing your jurisdiction’s contribution to the RHTF?

Do you propose any other local housing subsidy programs?

Do you support efforts to participate in the provincial Rapid Response Housing Program, which requires local government to provide free land for modular transition housing?

 

3. Some jurisdictions have inclusivity mandates which require that a portion of new private developments be sold or rented below market rates (i.e., market rate housing units subsidize affordable units). However, if these requirements are too high, this can reduce total new housing construction, particularly less profitable, moderate-priced units.

Questions:

Do you support inclusivity requirements for new development?

If so, what types of inclusivity requirements do you support?

Should moderate-priced housing be excluded from this requirement?

 

4. To serve our growing population and drive down prices our region must add 2,000-4,000 new housing units annually, including a diverse range of moderate-priced homes. Some jurisdictions, such as Calgary, meet their housing demand by allowing more urban fringe development. Others, such as Montreal, meet their housing demand by allowing more compact infill development, more missing middle housing within existing urban neighborhoods.

Questions:

Do you support policies to encourage more affordable housing construction in the CRD?

Where and what type of housing growth do you think should accommodate that demand?

Do you think that your jurisdiction’s housing development targets should be lower, equal to, or greater than the regional growth rate?

 

5. Many housing experts recommend that communities support missing middle housing development, such as secondary suites, multi-plexes (3-6 unit houses), townhouses and low-rise apartments, in order to accommodate more moderate-income families. Currently, most residential neighborhoods only allow lower-density (i.e., two-story with low Floor Area Ratios) houses. In such areas, infill projects require zoning variances and city council approval, which adds delays and drives up costs. Many cities are reforming zoning codes to encourage affordable infill in existing urban neighborhoods.

Questions:

Do you support policy reforms to allow more missing middle infill housing in residential neighborhoods that currently forbid them?

Do you support policy reforms to allow taller and denser homes on corner lots and larger lots (more than 10,000 square feet) where they impact fewer neighbors?

 

6. Victoria’s Official Community Plan (OCP) identifies various areas (mainly downtown and along major arterials) for higher density development (more than three stories), but the city’s zoning codes have not been adjusted to reflect these targets. This forces developers to seek variances for each infill project, which increases costs and discourages them from achieving the city’s density targets. Many affordability advocates recommend that the city “upzone” all properties to their OCP density targets.

Questions:

Do you support upzoning properties to OCP density targets?

Do you support upzoning within neighborhoods (not just along arterials), to allow more families to live on quite, low pollution streets?

 

7. Zoning codes in most neighborhoods (excepting downtown Victoria) require developers to provide off-street parking with each housing units. This typically costs $30,000-60,000 per parking space. That only adds 5-10% to higher-cost (more than $1,000,000 per unit) housing, but often adds 10-25% to the cost of moderate-priced (200,000-600,000 per unit) housing. This is inefficient and unfair: it drives up housing costs and forces car-free households to pay for costly parking spaces they don’t need. According to the CRD Origin Destination Household Travel Survey, 20% of Victoria households, and 40% of downtown households, are car-free.

To increase affordability and fairness many jurisdictions are eliminating parking minimums and requiring landlords to unbundle parking (rent parking separately from housing units). This does not eliminate parking; it simply allows developers to supply the number of parking spaces that the market demands rather than based on generic standards.

To address neighborhood concerns about parking congestion on neighborhood streets, many jurisdictions are expanding parking management policies into residential neighborhoods, including more parking permits, regulations and pricing of parking.

Questions:

Do you support significantly reducing or eliminating the city’s parking minimums, and policies that encourage or require landlords to unbundle parking, so car-free households are no longer required to pay for parking facilities they don’t need?

Do you support more efficient management of on-street parking in residential areas to address neighborhood concerns?

 

8. Municipal governments impose various development fees, inclusivity mandates, and project approval requirements that apply to most new multi-family developments. Because they are applied per unit, they represent a small cost burden to higher-priced units but a large cost burden to lower-priced units, and so tend to discourage moderate-priced housing development, the types of housing that many moderate-income households need.

Questions:

Do you support development fee and inclusivity requirement exemptions for smaller, moderate-priced infill housing projects?

Do you support expedited approval requirements for smaller and moderate-priced infill housing projects?

Do you support allowing higher densities and building heights in exchange for more affordable units?

 

9. Energy efficiency design features, such as increased insulation, higher quality windows and doors, and more efficient appliances, tend to repay their costs through future energy savings. This also helps reduce climate emissions.

Questions:

Do you support strong building energy efficiency standards for new developments, such as Passive House standards?

Do you support municipal and regional programs to retrofit of existing homes to increase efficiency?

 

10. Housing and transportation are the two largest household budget burdens for most low- and moderate-income households. A cheap house is not truly affordable if located in an isolated area with high transportation costs. As a result, lower cost transportation options (walking, bicycling and public transit), and lower-priced housing located in walkable urban neighborhoods, are critical for true affordability. They also tend to be resource-efficient and healthy to use, and so help achieve environmental and public health goals. Walking and bicycling have proven to be particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, for mobility and health.

Many Victoria households have members who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive for many trips. According to the CRD Origin Destination Household Travel Survey, within Core communities (Esquimalt, Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich) 26% of trips are by walking and bicycling, and 9% are by public transit. Within Victoria, 50% of trips are by walking and bicycling, and 7% are by public transit. These modes currently receive a smaller share of transportation infrastructure investments. Recent pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements, and public transit service improvements, have increased use of these modes, indicating significant latent demand. Investing in walking, bicycling and public transit ensures that non-drivers receive a fair share of transportation infrastructure investments.

Many people drive to our community to work, shop or recreate, incurring road and parking facility costs, and adding to our traffic problems. Many communities are expanding when and where public parking is priced in order to help reduce traffic and parking congestion and to ensure that non-resident motorists help pay for the road and parking facilities they use.

Questions:

Do you support current efforts to improve walking and bicycling facilities, public transit services, and complete streets policies (streets designed to accommodate all modes)?

Do you support allocating funding to walking, bicycling and public transit infrastructure at least up to their mode shares (i.e., if 10% of trips are by walking, the city will invest at least 10% of funding to pedestrian facilities), to ensure that local pedestrians and bicyclists receive a fair share of public investments?

Do you support traffic calming and other traffic speed reduction strategies if justified to increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety?

Do you support expanding when and where public parking is priced (such as more parking meters in commercial districts, and charges on Sundays and evenings) in order to recover more local road and parking facility costs from non-residential motorists?

How do you think our community should accommodate growing demand for walking, bicycling and public transit?

Do you support reducing, current or increased public transit investments in our regions?

 

11. Municipal governments can support contests, workshops and charrettes (focused community planning programs) to encourage better building design in order to address public concerns about infill development. The Affordable Housing Design Advisor, the Missing Middle Website, and Portland’s Infill Design Project are examples of affordable housing design resources.

Questions:

Would you support municipal contests, professional development workshops and community charrettes to improve affordable infill housing development.

If so, what funding level do you consider appropriate?

 

What do you think?

What additional municipal actions do you recommend for making Victoria more affordable and inclusive?

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