I try not to use this blog as a political soapbox. Sometimes I can't.
In today's TC (H/T to Muriel for the tip), newly-elected Mayor of Victoria Dean Fortin announced a program to create incentives for homeowners to develop secondary suites. The program, to cost $250,000, is meant to add up to 50, yes that's right folks, 50 suites to the pool of rental housing and get the proverbial 3 kids and their mom out of some Gorge Road hotel suite.
The suites are already there Dean, they just aren't suitable for more than two people, and many people won't rent secondary suites to families. The real problem in Victoria is no one officially knows the true number of scondary suites and everyone thinks they are rented, even when they are not.
This $250,000 would have been better spent on a civic registry and database of suites so that Victoria could have a more accurate accounting of rental accomodation and vacancy rates. The current system, courtesy of CMHC, doesn't count secondary suites or investment condos. Heck, it probably doesn't count anything built after 1978.
The suites exist. The problem is the tools to influence the market don't. Everyone thinks there is a dearth of vacant properties in Victoria. That's why new homeowners think it's true market value to charge $800 a month for a mouldy basement bachelor with five and a half foot ceilings. And the lack of true information is why renters in this town grudgingly agree to pay Cook St Village prices for a leaky basement suite behind George Jay school.
Dean's incentive program only applies to residential neighbourhoods like Fernwood, James Bay, Vic West and Fairfield; that's right, take a drive through any of these neighbourhoods and you can see the vast number of suites that already exist based purely on the lack of street parking and the foot traffic headed around the side of homes. How can you possibly add suites to areas already saturated with them?
Dean, you just created a useless nightmare: you'll have no impact on rental numbers or availability and your office will be flooded with irate homeowners pissed because it's hard enough for them to back out of their driveways without hitting a parked car as it is.
Your program will do nothing substantial to help the people that need it: I'd rather support you if you had announced you were going to hand five grand a year to 50 single parent families living in a hotel room to offset the cost to get into market housing. Of course, then you'd have to deal with the irate voters complaining their money will just be spent on beer and popcorn.
The suites are already there; I believe the vacancy is too. Renters just need to learn about this and stop agreeing to pay outrageous rents. This, to me, is a missed opportunity to do something real for a problem that may not be as bad as we collectively think it is. We gave control of the information to the people who have an invested interest in driving prices upwards (higher rents support higher house prices). That was our first mistake. If this program passes, I'm sure it will be mistake number, er, well I'll let you decide if giving himself a $23,000 pay raise after a couple weeks on the job was Mayor Dean's first.
If you agree with me, send Mayor Dean Fortin a note. If you don't, tell me where to go in comments.