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Province sets home-building targets for Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay

Ten B.C. municipalities have been given house-building targets to reach within five years. Oak Bay has qualms.

The province has rolled out new-housing targets for 10 municipalities, including three in Greater Victoria, that each must reach within five years to help alleviate the continuing shortage of affordable housing.

Slightly more than 60,000 new units are to be built.

Victoria’s net target for new units is 4,902, Saanich is 4,610 and Oak Bay is 664.

Other municipalities given targets are Vancouver, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Abbotsford, Delta, Kamloops and Port Moody. The 10 were identified this year as having an urgent need for housing.

Later this year, targets will be announced for another eight to 10 municipalities, and six months later targets will be set for another group of communities, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said at a press conference at Saanich Municipal Hall on Tuesday. “In total, we expect 16 to 20 municipalities will be selected for housing targets each year and over the next two years.”

He called the program “ambitious.” “More homes are needed to keep up with the current demand.”

The pace of approvals will need to pick up if targets are to be met. The number of housing starts for 2022 in Victoria was 1,727, Saanich had 419, and Oak Bay had 27, said Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

Kahlon said he fears that many young families are ­considering moving away from B.C.

Each municipality has received a guideline for its own target. It includes number of units, number of bedrooms, whether rental or owned, number of below-market-price rentals, and units with supports.

The province is planning legislation and rules to enable housing to get built and is looking at what is being done elsewhere, Kahlon said.

“We are doing a lot of engagement with non-profits, with the private sector, with the planning community to make sure that we get it right.”

If the 10 municipalities meet their targets, just over 16,800 below-market-price rental units will be completed.

Under the Housing Supply Act, the province can take action if municipalities do not comply.

B.C. has launched a $1 billion Growing Communities Fund and is putting $51 million into helping communities reach density goals in developments.

Kahlon was in Ottawa in recent days with Premier David Eby to press for housing support. “Every day we wait for the federal government to make a decision.”

The development and ­construction sectors are facing major hurdles in building homes, such as interest rates, a labour shortage, and rising costs.

Key to its home-building initiative is streamlining local-government approval processes and updating zoning bylaws, Kahlon said. The province is committed to working in a collaborative way with local governments, he said.

“Make no mistake. This will not be easy. Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges that our province is facing.”

The provincial government is developing a land bank and building an inventory of lands owned by the province, by Crown corporations and by other entities.

Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock said that Saanich is committed to working collaboratively with the province to increase the housing supply.

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto said earlier that she supported the province’s move to develop a strategy to create more affordable homes in the city.

Oak Bay was less welcoming. It said it will work diligently to see new housing built and was pleased to see the possibility of provincial money. But it criticized the province for requiring targets to be confidential during summer meetings.

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said in a letter to Kahlon that the targets were set on the basis of need but did not fully consider the capacity of a municipality to meet that need. Conditions in Oak Bay that make it challenging to meet the target include little vacant land, limited commercial or industrial land for intensive development, limited private-property owner interest in redevelopment, and the lack of significant land assemblies, he said.

With its old infrastructure, more infrastructure and amenities would be needed to support a growing community, Murdoch said.

The short timeline puts Oak Bay at a disadvantage compared with other larger municipalities which already have development-enabling policies, systems, staffing and resources in place, he said. As well, Oak Bay does not have any large-scale development applications in the pipeline, he said.

Karin Kirkpatrick, B.C. United housing critic, said the announcement was pretty broad and questioned how the province will ensure municipal accountability to reach targets over five years.

“How are they actually going to hold these municipalities accountable for getting this done?”

She welcomed the idea of a land bank, saying it could remove the cost of land which would allow costs to be more managable.

Casey Edge, Victoria Residential Builders Association executive director, said to meet the target, “The District of Oak Bay is going to have to embrace rezoning and to make this happen within five years, they are going to have to speed up their processes because it can take a couple of years just to have a single project approved .”

The critical piece is for all municipalities to significantly speed up their approval processes, he said.

Edge said that Saanich and Victoria have large backlogs of projects waiting for approvals, a factor that could help them meet targets.

Ben Mycroft, chair of the Capital Region chapter of the Urban Development Institute, which has members from the public, private and non-profit sectors, thinks some planned developments will not get built because of issues such as interest rates and new energy-related building regulations. “Construction costs are still going up 10 per cent a year.”

He knows of projects which are going into “hibernation now because it is far too risky and the banks will not lend the money.”

To bring the public on board to support the housing development initiative, Mycroft said that recreation and other amenities, such as pools and daycare, and transit infrastructure need to be provided.

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