New affordable housing in Saanich looks anything but in the light of a new study that defines the upper limit for an affordable home in Saanich as $605,000 for larger homes and $428,000 for those with fewer than two bedrooms.
On Monday night, council endorsed that definition which will be used as a tool to develop the district’s policies to tackle the problem of lack of affordability.
The study, prepared by the district’s housing division and consultants Urban Matter, may have defined affordability for owners and renters, but it also highlighted the problem the district faces.
“I generally find myself to be an optimistic person, but I would say in reading this report, it is one of the saddest reports I’ve ever read,” said Coun. Colin Plant, noting affordable housing now appears to be out of reach for many residents.
“I can’t help but think we need to just commit ourselves to doing everything we can to make sure that when we have opportunities for affordability projects, we pursue them. Quite frankly, this report, it’s depressing.”
Plant wasn’t the only one concerned.
While the report was endorsed and the definition accepted, council noted it will take other levels of government to solve the problem.
“It is quite chilling to note that home ownership is basically out of reach of almost everybody, or a vast majority of folks,” said Coun. Teale Phelps Bonderoff. “It’s very humbling and chilling, and we should be reflecting on that as a council.”
Phelps Bonderoff said having a definition is a good first step, noting housing is obviously a top priority and council needs to get to work and support the construction of affordable housing.
The study was undertaken because increased pressure on the housing market has meant the municipality has had to take on a larger role in delivering housing, and it can’t deliver affordable housing if it doesn’t know what affordable means.
The report also noted that defining affordability may be helpful to guide developers on how many affordable units or community amenity contributions would be required under Saanich’s inclusionary housing policy; whether housing projects are eligible for incentives and prioritizing applications for grants from the affordable housing fund.
The report also defined what is affordable for renters, who make up 31 per cent of Saanich’s 48,045 households.
It also split levels of affordability into three tiers. Affordable units for very low income individuals — those on income and disability assistance — was defined as $500 for a bachelor suite, $695 for a one-bedroom unit, $790 for two bedrooms, $840 for three bedrooms and $890 for four bedrooms. Affordable for low-income renters ranges from $783 for a bachelor suite to $1,639 for a four-bedroom home and affordable for moderate to median income ranged from $1,065 to $2,388 per month.
Mayor Dean Murdock said the report highlighted just how challenging it is to put your finger on affordability in a community where renting or buying is out of reach for a lot of people.
“What staff are establishing with this definition is a baseline so that when we talk about below-market units requiring subsidies for people in order to rent or buy in our community, that this is the number that we’re talking about,” he said. “We have to target these types of units or homes as part of our overall growth in the community and the new homes that are being built.”
Murdock said there are steps council can take to help create more affordability.
“We have a housing strategy that sets out 73 actions that are going to make a significant impact in creating more affordability for people,” he said. “But the challenge is considerable and it’s going to take efforts on the part of all levels of government in order to create truly affordable homes for people in our community.”
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