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Working poor need more council support

A few years ago, I sat through a meeting where Victoria City Council declared the lack of affordable rental housing a state of emergency.

A  few years ago, I sat through a meeting where Victoria City Council declared The Capital’s lack of affordable rental housing an official state of emergency. While this emergency may not quite be on par with the earthquake we’ve been assured will engulf our city at any minute, anyone browsing the rental listings for a bachelor suite that costs less than three quarters of a month’s pay is acutely aware of the growing gulf between Victoria’s average income and the average rent.

After a presentation from the Community Social Planning Council on its report Affordable Housing for BC’s Capital Region: Tools for the Future was postponed at last week’s council meeting, now seems like as good a time as any to examine how the region’s municipalities have progressed.

The core of the CSPC’s report revolves around a set of almost two dozen recommendations. Some are old (develop a regional housing strategy), some are new (create a community investment fund) and some (lobby senior governments for more cash) are quickly entering the realm of fantasy for municipalities who, like Prometheus, have been left stranded by their superiors to be slowly eaten alive.

The report also provides an overview of how each municipality measures up to some 50 options for encouraging affordable housing. Victoria and, perhaps surprisingly, Langford are clear winners, each with about three-quarters of the available options either adopted or considered. Colwood, North Saanich and Oak Bay tie for a decisive last, each with 0/50. The bottom three are closely followed by View Royal, Metchosin, Highlands and Juan De Fuca, with only a handful of points between the four.

Despite a few notable exceptions, the report reveals that our region has largely gotten away with the bare minimum when it comes to supporting the development and maintenance of affordable housing. Of 14 local governments, only Esquimalt has bothered with standards of maintenance bylaws, and only a handful have even considered supporting non-profit agencies that attempt to provide affordable housing.

When I called a friend for the benefit of his decades of experience in rental advocacy, his assessment of the CSPC’s report was simply, “it’s good stuff, but will probably be ignored.” For the sake of The Capital’s growing legions of working poor, let’s hope he’s wrong. M