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Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce warns of snowballing worker shortage

Chamber executive director says affordable housing needed fast or workers will continue to leave
Al Smith, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, says action on housing affordability in the region is needed to prevent a growing worker shortage. (Photo courtesy of Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce)

The local chamber of commerce on the Saanich Peninsula is warning of a worker shortage it says is only going to get worse unless local municipalities do something to address housing affordability.

“We’re just kind of raising an alarm bell,” said Al Smith, the chamber’s executive director. “We need to start getting the cost of housing down so we can still have a workforce in 10 years.”

Smith’s organization combined recent census data and housing statistics with a survey of local businesses owners, finding that an increase in the amount of income people need to spend on housing has coincided with a reduction in the number of workers throughout the region.

According to Smith, this is at least partly a result of years of local municipalities stifling development, leading to a situation in which demand outstrips supply.

To back this up, he presented statistics comparing the median home price to the median income on the peninsula, saying it indicated the average worker would need to spend 71 per cent of their income on housing to buy a home in the Saanich Peninsula, while this same number was 30 per cent back in 2001.

The chamber is calling on municipalities to change rules on housing density and to provide better public transportation on the peninsula so young workers can live in the area, and travel to it easily if living elsewhere. Without this, the chamber warns of a worsening demographic trend toward and ageing population.

“And so what that means is that if this trend continues, the businesses that are here will not be sustainable in the long run,” Smith said.

The results are already being felt, Smith said, as businesses, including large operators such as BC Ferries, struggle to find enough staff to keep up regular operations.

“How often do you see something that says ‘we couldn’t operate today because we didn’t have staff?’” Smith asks rhetorically. “I mean, those are everywhere.”

On Wednesday (April 2) morning, the day after Smith made these comments, the local ferry between the peninsula and Mill Bay had to suspended all ferry operations for several hours due to insufficient staffing.

Not everyone agrees with the chamber’s assessment of the situation, however.

Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor said his district has actually built a lot of new rental housing in recent years to address these issues, and that the lack with rental stock extends beyond the peninsula and dates back more than a decade.

“So quite frankly, I don’t view their information as factually correct, at least from a Central Saanich perspective,” he said.

He added that the peninsula is a diverse place with lots of different demographics of people and different types of land-use areas, and with all the competing interests, he wants his district to grow carefully. He contrasted this with places such as Langford — a place Smith highlighted as a model community — noting the large debt per capita in that city.

“The housing plans for the district are modest, moderate growth, not explosive growth,” Windsor said. “We’re trying to do this sustainably.”

Asked about the chamber study in a Tuesday (April 2) press conference, B.C. Premier David Eby said the lack of affordable housing extends to many parts of Canada, highlighting the ways his government is trying to address the issues.

“We’re going to keep taking those actions, and that applies equally to the Saanich Peninsula as every other part of the province,” he said.

About the Author: Mark Page

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