Island Voices: Ignoring expert advice leads to less advice

If you have been following Victoria city council since the municipal elections last fall, you have undoubtedly seen coverage of questionable policy considerations and decisions.

It would seem too often council members have chosen to listen to experts when it suits them, and ignore experts when it does not.

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This unfortunate and misguided approach to governance occurred again on June 27 when a majority of council members (Ben Isitt, Jeremy Loveday, Laurel Collins, Sharmarke Dubow and Sarah Potts) voted against their own consultant and staff recommendation on how many below-market rental units can be achieved within new residential stratified buildings of 60 or more units.

This requirement would occur in consideration of a lift in the value of land achieved by a rezoning.

Council ignored a recommended study that supported a 10 per cent requirement by instead adopting a policy requirement of 20 per cent.

Council is pushing back against the experts, their staff and industry to require more, and as some of the approving councillors said, be bold.

Being bold does not always equate to being smart. The original recommendation for 10 per cent was studied through an in-depth and detailed economic analysis prepared by Coriolis Consulting and through a diverse working group including non-profit housing providers, community associations, homebuilders, affordable housing advocates and staff.

Despite warnings from their own staff, consultant and homebuilders that said anything above 10 per cent would make projects financially unviable and lead to less affordability, a worsening of our current housing crisis and result in a reduction in associated building permit fees, many councillors chose to ignore these warnings and approve 20 per cent.

However, 10 per cent of something is better than 20 per cent of nothing.

This has sent a dangerous message to the home building, business and banking community in Victoria and beyond.

The message is clear that no matter what the economics support, no matter what their staff and outside consultants tell them, no matter what the findings of the working groups, council members are going to do what they want, when they want and how they want.

There is no question under B.C. law they have every right to do so, but is that really the best way to govern?

To ignore the results of the economic analysis which costs thousands of taxpayer dollars and more than a year of work, to ignore their own staff, to ignore the findings of the diverse working group and to ignore the very folks who would be building the inclusionary housing, is unfathomable.

We are in a housing crisis and the current and future inhabitants of Victoria deserve better. They deserve a council that makes informed policy decisions based on expert and staff advice in order to achieve the best outcomes to make our city as inclusive, diverse, affordable and as liveable as possible.

Council’s decision on this policy flies in the face of these broad objectives.

We, as an industry that builds homes and communities, want to work with council, staff and the community to improve our housing situation as best we can — but there is only so much the city can do, and ask for, while still ensuring new homes are built to support our existing and growing population.

If further knowledge is needed by this council to understand the fundamentals of land development, we are prepared to put in the time to do so.

We are partners in community building, and in a partnership, both sides must understand each other. This policy shows clearly that many on council do not and choose not to understand the fundamentals of creating new housing in their community.

The question now is: Are they willing to learn?

Kathy Whitcher is executive director of the Urban Development Institute in the capital region.

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