Living in a walkable urban neighborhood provides many direct and indirect benefits. More walking creates a friendly and livable community, living close to services saves residents time and money, and by reducing total driving it reduces traffic and parking problems, accident risk and pollution emissions imposed on others. If you live in such an area, you already enjoy these benefits. Now, please share them with others, particularly those with lower incomes. It’s only fair, and creates a better community.
According to CRD projections, to increase affordability our Region must add over 2,200 more housing units annually, about half of which should be priced for moderate- and lower-income families. Some areas are helping to serve these needs: downtown Victoria has more than 3,000 high-rise units, and the West Shore has several hundred single-family houses under various stages of development. However, these won’t meet most lower-income households’ needs. Not everybody is suited to downtown or suburban living, and both high rise and suburban single family housing are costly to build. Considering land, construction, operating and transportation costs, the most affordable housing type is generally low-rise (two- to six-story) wood-frame townhouses and apartments with unbundled parking (parking rented separately from housing units) located in a walkable urban neighborhood.
Our region has a severe shortage of such housing, due primarily to nneighbourhood opposition. Existing residents oppose lower-cost housing types, lobby for reduced building density and height, and demand far more parking than lower-income households actually need, which drives up housing costs. Why? Because they have nothing to lose. They already live in a walkable neighborhood and want to exclude others.
Of course, infill development can cause noise and dust, and may increase local traffic and parking congestion, but it also provides substantial benefits. It creates more vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, increases local business activity and jobs. Residents of walkable urban neighborhoods tend to own fewer cars and drive less than they would in more sprawled locations, which reduces total regional vehicle travel and associated congestion, parking, accident and pollution problems. Critics sometimes argue that low-income households will attract criminals and reduce property values; in fact, most affordable housing occupants are responsible seniors, students and workers, and allowing more compact development increases property values.
At best, preventing affordable infill development reduces symptoms, but allowing affordable infill treats the roots of urban problems causes by sprawl and automobile dependency. Many infill housing opponents may someday want such housing for themselves or loved ones when it’s time to downsize, or when they want nearby housing for a parent, adult children or friends.
Real-world examples illustrate how development restrictions can reduce housing affordability. In 2003 a developer proposed the Bohemia and Castana, a pair of three- and four-story mixed-use buildings with 71 residential units, a third of which were to be moderate-price rentals, in the Cook Street Village, a walkable neighborhood in Victoria, British Columbia. Local residents objected. They considered the buildings too tall, too bulky and too modern, although the critics were unable to explain exactly how they would be harmed by a fourth story. Never-the-less, the opponents were successful: the City rejected the proposal. Instead, the developer constructed a three-story building with 51 condominiums but no rental units. In a city with nearly 50,000 houses, 20 fewer moderate-priced units is too small to notice, but if this is typical, it indicates that community resistance typically reduces affordable infill housing development by a third compared with what developers would provide in less restricted markets.
When infill development is restricted, the lower-priced units are usually the first to be eliminated, because they are the least profitable. This forces lower-income households to pay more for housing than they can afford, or live in less accessible neighborhoods where they will drive more and increase regional traffic problems. This is a fairness issue: living in a walkable urban neighbourhood increases low income resident’s economic opportunity and social inclusion.
It is time to say Yes In My Backyard to affordable infill housing development!
Theme: Home is where we can feel comfortable, safe and productive. Many artists, students, workers and seniors struggle to find affordable housing in walkable urban neighborhoods where they can get around without a car.
This is both a personal and a political issue. It affects everyone, and is influenced by political decisions that determine the housing and transportation options available in our community. Many existing municipal and provincial policies reduce housing and transportation affordability. Why? In part, because young and low-income citizens, the people who most need affordable housing and transport options, vote at much lower rates than older and wealthier citizens. It is time to mobilize voters for affordability!
Instructions: The “Home, Sweet, Affordable Home” art contest challenges artists to explore links between personal experiences and politics regarding housing and transportation affordability, and to find new and unexpected perspectives in these issues. This can include:
The beauty and pleasure of a comfortable home, and the tragedy when that is unavailable.
Illustrations of affordable urban housing types, such as apartments, secondary suites, lofts and shared houses.
How public policies affect affordability, which policies favor more expensive housing and transportation over more affordable alternatives, why these exist, and what can be done to support more affordable housing in walkable neighborhoods.
Political dimensions, including why younger and poorer citizens vote at lower rates than older, more affluent citizens, how this influences public policies, and possible ways to encourage voting by lower-income citizens.
Prizes: This contest is open to all Victoria region artists. One $400 prize will be awarded for the most creative and insightful work in each of these three categories:
Visual arts (photography, drawing and painting)
Creative writing (poetry and short fiction)
Journalism (investigation and interviews)
Selected submissions will be displayed at an upcoming art show and on the Cities for Everyone website.
Submission Deadline: Submissions (including digital images of visual artwork) and questions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.Deadline 20 April 2017.