Victoria council is expected to vote Thursday to extend a program that offers grants to offset business losses as a result of vandalism in the downtown, but the business community says the recent spike in incidents is pushing some to consider relocating.
The odd broken window used to be part of the price of doing business in a busy city centre, but these days, it’s becoming a daily occurrence.
Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said business owners are getting tired of the vandalism — and the excuses for why it’s happening
“When the volume [of vandalism] gets like this and they don’t hear anything, that’s their frustration. And that’s when you start to hear people saying: ‘Will I bother renewing my lease down here?’ ”
Bray said he’s hearing business owners weigh staying put and having a glass-repair shop on speed-dial against relocating and avoiding that headache, even if business won’t be as brisk.
“It’s very frustrating that businesses, non-profits or government buildings are faced with this type of activity and that there are no repercussions for the perpetrators — this is what happens when you take a hands-off approach to people engaged in criminal behaviour.”
Bray said the one concrete thing that could be done is holding people accountable for their behaviour by having bylaw and police moving along people who are breaking the rules.
He supports Premier David Eby’s goal of keeping repeat offenders off the streets and providing involuntary care for people who are struggling and creating disturbances because of mental illness.
“But we also need more enforcement, we actually need these behaviors to be dealt with and not ignored and normalized,” he said.
Bray said the new city council appears to be listening and looking for ways in the short-term to support businesses.
That may be tested at council Thursday. City staff are recommending council extend the Safety Initiative Reimbursement agreement with the Downtown Victoria Business Association to the end of this year or until the balance of the fund has been exhausted.
When it was launched last spring, there was $65,000 in the fund to offset costs associated with vandalism. Just over $10,000 remains.
The grants provide 50 per cent of a business’s expenses up to $1,000 for safety or security initiatives and to repair windows, doors and locks.
To date, the Downtown Victoria Business Association, which administers the program for the city, has issued 55 grants worth $33,673, with another 22 grants still in progress.
The program has a fan in Coun. Matt Dell, who said he would like to see the fund topped up with another $65,000 and extended until the end of 2024.
“I want to be able to help out, provide a better kind of stability in the downtown core, provide a better service to the downtown community,” he said. “This program has been one particular success, so I’d like to see it continued.”
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