Dear Victoria City Councilors:
As concerned residents of Victoria, who currently rent and watch the local real estate market closely, we write to implore you to consider further action on the affordable housing crisis. It is admirable that the city recognizes that coop housing collectives and non-profits working at eliminating homelessness do necessary work; however, these targeted efforts do little to nothing in the way of impacting real rents that hard working individuals and families pay.
My previous employer is facing a critical labour shortage. Its employees need only have a high school education. That employer offers above average wages and benefits too. But the lack of affordable rental housing is driving its employees, both new and old, out of the city. You see, it's not just Victoria that has extremely low unemployment. It's a Canada wide phenomena that is causing young people to examine the cost of living in Victoria and look at opportunities in cities with more affordable housing stock.
A developer has approached you with a proposal to build 39-units of rental stock for a guaranteed 10-year period of 10% below average rents. If you use today's current rental rates as per BC Statistics, the developer is promising 2-bedroom units at approximately $750.00 per month. For a young family earning roughly $50,000 per year, that rent would require roughly 20% of their gross monthly income. That kind of rent to income ratio would enable disciplined individuals and families to save a considerable down payment in order to own a similar sized home of their own in the future. Who knows, maybe they will see the benefit of ownership and even work to own the unit that they rent from the developer?
We know that Council is divided on this issue: some of you believe that adherence at all costs to the official community plan is paramount. But we think that Helen Hughes has a much more realistic outlook: "We have to think of the larger good in addition to the needs of the close proximity," Victoria councillor Helen Hughes said. "If we turn this down, we are saying to anyone else, 'Don't bother, because we don't care to look at this.' ... This could kick-start others to think this way."
Ms. Hughes is right. And she is in direct opposition to at least three of you--Mayor Alan Low, Coun. Pam Madoff and Coun. Geoff Young--who believe that building apartments equates to "destabilizing neighbourhoods." Mr. Young went so far as to even comment that "other developers will stampede to the city looking for similar concessions 'if we send a message that blockbusting is OK and we are prepared to throw community plans in the dumpster.'"
Mr. Young, we here at HouseHuntVictoria hope you are correct. While you see the development of similar rental housing on similar (to these proposed) terms as bad for your community plan, we see them as sustainable. We believe the average Victorian will agree as well. But we won't receive confirmation of that until you allow a public hearing, which it seems naysayers on Council are wanting to prevent from happening. Thankfully, naysayers are in the minority.
We encourage Council to consider other similar plans, in other locations like Fairfield, Fernwood, and Sears. If the real estate market has changed enough to have developers considering rental stock as a suitable alternative to the pump and dump process of condominium development the city should embrace and encourage sustainable, affordable growth for the people who want to live, work, pay taxes and raise families here. It is time for this city to send a message to its citizens, and people considering becoming citizens, that it wants to provide opportunities for sustainability and not just cater to wealthy Baby Boom-generation types seeking waterfront properties and luxury condominiums and the developers who cater to them.
To the immediate neighbours of proposed rental developments: we don't believe that rental housing equates to issues that can't be fixed. If you are concerned about traffic, work to address the reliance on cars made necessary by inadequate public transit and bike lanes in your neighbourhood. If you are concerned about crime, work to address the inadequate policing that the City of Victoria provides. If you are concerned about density, get over it. Density is a reality when people move into town. Your property's market value is directly related to the amount of people who want to live in Victoria, if you want to see your bubble-value remain long term, then you should work to encourage sustainable growth, otherwise businesses will suffer, young working people will leave and Boomers will move to where they truly can have it all.
HouseHuntVictoria and Ms. HHV