— Pamela Roth
The cost of living is the most important issue for residents of Greater Victoria, according to the findings of an annual community report released Tuesday morning.
The Victoria Foundation’s annual Vital Signs report combines public opinion from an online survey taken by 2,009 people with relevant facts to provide a snapshot of the livability and wellbeing of the community. Citizens were asked to grade each issue, along with providing their top three priorities for improving the grade.
Overall, the report states that respondents from the survey generally consider themselves happy and satisfied with many aspects of their lives, but some are struggling with issues such as the high cost of living, housing, employment, food security and other financial stress.
“The report gives you a good insight into what the community thinks,” said Victoria Foundation CEO Sandra Richardson, who was amazed the Greater Victoria Public Library had the highest circulation and second highest visits per capita in Canada.
“It’s like a sounding board for us, and then we look at how we can address some of these issues.”
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the report that began when the visibility of homelessness became prominent in the community.
The Toronto Community Foundation started Vital Signs in their community for similar reasons and offered it as a program that could go across Canada. Richardson thought it would be a great pilot project to get to know the community better.
According to the report, there has been a steady and dramatic decline in seeing homelessness as the number one issue facing Victoria in 2008 (58 per cent) to being the number four issue in 2014.
Seeing addictions as an important issue has also steadily declined, but concern with mental illness has been increasingly steady, along with housing.
As of March 31, 2014, there were 7,510 units of subsidized rental housing in Greater Victoria, operated by B.C. Housing — up from 6,347 units in March 2006. As of April 2015, the average vacancy rate for market rental housing in the region was 1.2 per cent, despite an increase in market rental supply over the past two years.
There has also been a steady rise in seeing the cost of living as the number one issue, from second place (37 per cent) in 2008/2010, to first place since 2009, peaking at 52 per cent in 2014. The report states the cost of living is a more general and broad-based concern, affecting everyone, while homelessness affects only a small, but very vulnerable group of people.
“The cost of living is expensive here, but also people don’t make very much money to pay for basic needs such as housing. The way to fix that in part is to build an economy that has room for everyone and to create better household paying jobs to increase medium incomes,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who noticed the grade for ‘belonging and engagement’ went from a B- to a B.
“The fact that grade changed and the city was cited as part of that, it felt really really good. People do want to be engaged in their community and I think that local governments can actually create a habitat for happiness and belonging among our residents.”
Helps added the city’s strategic plan and focus is aligned with the needs of the community.
Residents were also asked to identify the best things about Greater Victoria. Natural environment and climate, walkability, festivals and events, and parks rounded out the top five answers.