New government must act swiftly on childcare and housing

Many people have been asking me what my hopes are for our new government of British Columbia. They’re very simple: I’d like them to do everything they said they’d do. And I’d like them to do these things as quickly as possible particularly with regard to childcare and affordable housing.

Victoria’s economy is very strong right now. Tech and tourism are booming and construction jobs abound. Two big threats to this continued prosperity are childcare and housing.

The Chamber of Commerce has done some great work on advocating for affordable childcare. What they’ve found is that according to the to Victoria Child Care Resource and Referral, the average monthly cost of full-time child care for kids under five, as of February, was between $812 and $1,128 per month. That is over $10,000 a year per child and at least $40,000 from birth to kindergarten. The problem is exacerbated for a family with more than one child and continues with the need for after-school care and care during school vacations.

The 2016 Canada Census data reveals the gap between our regional population of children and number of child care spaces. The most acute gap is for infants and toddlers where we have roughly one licensed child care space for every eight children. The gap is likely to expand. Between 2011 and 2016 our population of 25 to 39 year olds grew by nine per cent and our population of children under 11 also grew by nine per cent.

The province must: ensure B.C. gets its fair share of funding from the federal government under the National Framework on Early Learning and Child Care; expand publicly funded spaces for early childhood education training; consider including childcare as part of the K to 12 education system and allow access to school property and facilities, which have already been paid for by the taxpayer, for affordable childcare spaces using cost-effective prefab buildings; deliver on the campaign promise of $10-a-day childcare.

It also matters to our economy that the people who provide services we need and want, can afford to live here. For example, a minimum-wage worker makes $22,568 per year working full-time. Assuming 30 per cent of this income is spent on housing – a generally accepted guideline – that’s $565 per month for rent, inclusive of utilities. But the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Victoria is $1,290 as of February. This is not sustainable.

We need a predictable, consistent investment in affordable housing. We need to create a diverse and resilient housing ecosystem including everything from affordable housing with supports as needed for those exiting homelessness, to affordable three-bedroom condos for families in downtown urban centres. The government can’t do this alone; it would be wise to reward local governments that have clear strategies at the local level for cutting red tape and making it easier for non-profit and for-profit housing developers to build new rental housing.

The health, prosperity and sustainability of our city and our province depends on swift action on both these fronts. We are standing by as local governments to assist in any way we can.

Lisa Helps is the mayor of the City of Victoria.