Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said the lack of affordable housing in Sidney will not change overnight, but said steps are already underway.
“Staff and I myself have had meetings with these [regional, provincial and federal housing] agencies, and we have been meeting with developers, so that they have an awareness of what our needs are in the community in terms of purpose-built rentals and affordable, and what the options to try to bring affordable rentals into the picture,” he said.
Recent examples include Aranza development with 58 rentals including 28 below-market units approved by the previous council and a rental housing development with 71 units approved by the current council, he said. “That proponent is in discussions with B.C. Housing to look at the possibility of bringing affordable units into that development. These will be the next successes we will have to look towards.”
McNeil-Smith made these comments after councillors meeting as committee-of-the-whole had received the housing assessment report the Sidney had commissioned as mandated by the provincial government as part of its Official Community Plan (OCP) review.
The report finds among other points that Sidney’s rental vacancy rate has been zero for years and that local real estate has been unaffordable for all but a few groups because incomes have failed to catch up with rising housing.
McNeil-Smith said that rents have gone up 43 per cent over the decade between 2008 and 2018. “Wouldn’t it be nice if our or my income won’t increase by the same amount,” he said.
Sidney has also seen changing demographics. He said Sidney has been facing an “unprecedented demand” in recent years from individuals, who want to downsize from larger homes to condominiums in retiring to the community, among the oldest in British Columbia. At the same, Sidney has a sizable business community with employees, who need affordable housing.
The report notes that this combination of economic and demographic factors has created housing catering to wealthier individuals. In fact, it has created an oversupply of high-end condominiums at the moment, while most Sidney residents are struggling to find affordable housing.
This fact, of course, raises the question of whether previous council set the wrong priorities. McNeil-Smith said he won’t comment on the decisions of previous councils. “They had each project come before at the time, and those were the projects that they approved,” he said.
He had said earlier that in a free-market economy with high land prices, developers will invest in projects that promise the most return. “We have zoning in place,” he said. “Our zoning does not say you have to build a rental [development] here and a strata [condominium] there. The challenge is communicating to developers that these are needs and we need to provide incentives, and these are within the recommendations of the report.”
McNeil-Smith said it is too early which of the 29 recommendations Sidney will adopt as the report has just landed before council. Looking at the bigger picture, it is not clear when housing will become more affordable in the community.
McNeil-Smith said these housing pressures have developed over time and it will take on-going efforts by this council and future councils.
“It’s changing gradually, and hopefull will continue to change,” he said. “We are not going to get a three to five per cent vacancy rate in a year.”
The larger economy, with its cycles, will also play a role in helping conditions.
“With this present over-supply of the higher market condos, some of the projects may not proceed. I cannot tell you which ones, but given the market condition, that is a scenario and there is one significant development that was planning to open up strata condos that is seriously considering opening as rentals.”
When asked about the development, he said he was not at liberty to reveal it.
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