Everyone is aware of the low rental vacancy rate in Victoria right now. We’ve heard about the challenges this is creating for working people, people living on low incomes, seniors on fixed incomes and others. Many people are experiencing this firsthand. This housing crunch is also creating a challenge for the business community — affordable workforce housing was a key concern I heard at a recent breakfast of local CEOs.
Yet there’s little understanding of why we’re in this situation. And there’s little understanding of the solutions we’re working on at City Hall and at the Capital Regional District (CRD). We know that housing is key to a healthy, prosperous and sustainable city.
Let’s look at the data. Between 2011 and 2016, 5,775 new people moved to the City of Victoria. In that time only 2,802 new housing units were built. In Victoria, the average number of persons per household is 1.8 (compared to a national average of 2.1 persons). This means that between 2011 and 2016, the population of the city grew faster than the number of housing units needed.
The city’s director of planning estimates we probably built about 800 to 900 fewer units than we needed. Since the population still went up, those 800 to 900 additional housing units were found somewhere else in the city’s existing housing stock. The difference between Victoria’s vacancy rate in 2013 of 2.4 per cent and today’s 0.5 per cent is about 800 units.
The good news is that there are more than 1,000 units of housing under construction in Victoria right now, and there are more rental units being built than condos.
The even better news is that we’re taking the housing challenge seriously as a city and a region. The city has begun to implement its 2016-2025 Municipal Housing Strategy. We’ve started by increasing the amount of Housing Trust Fund subsidy to larger rental units, fast-tracking all rental buildings, and working to make it easier for people to build garden suites and secondary suites. And this is just the beginning. The plan can be viewed at victoria.ca/housing.
Even less celebrated (maybe because it is last year’s news?) is the historic $60-million Regional Housing First Program. This will see at least 880 new rental units built in the region over the next five years. Rent will range from $375 per month to 85 per cent of market. The first two buildings have already been approved for funding, including 50 units to be rented at $375 per month.
With all this work underway and units currently under construction, we’ll start to see some relief over the next couple of years. In the meantime, and as a community, we need to do two things. First, we need to come together and to support those who are struggling. Second, we need to support development projects that add new housing stock in line with the vision in the Official Community Plan where we see traditional neighbourhoods preserved and more density along major roads and in village centres.