A commentary by a Qualicum Beach councillor serving in his second term of office.
The proposed legislation put forward by the provincial government, which requires local governments to allow more units of housing on residential lots, will surely be described by many words from elected officials in local governments in the days to come.
The word I would suggest from half a decade of experience as an elected official in my community is “necessary.”
If you compare the 2001 information in the census for average full-time wages and the average cost of a home in British Columbia with the information in 2021, the former has increased by 75 per cent while the latter has increased by 325 per cent.
This even needs to be qualified, as the distribution of housing types has shifted over time towards a greater number of apartment buildings in large cities, and so a true like-to-like comparison would likely result in a larger gap.
If the cost of homes stopped increasing tomorrow, it would take close to 100 years to return to the market of 2001.
Simply put, many local governments have not adequately responded in a way that prioritizes the long-term needs of the community. Instead, we generally prioritize the immediate concerns of the people who attend public hearings or take time to write correspondence.
This often stems from a desire to be reasonable and try to make a proposal more palatable to the electorate.
However, the positions of the people who will move into that housing are almost always unheard, and so we revert to a status quo in terms of the type of housing to be built and the likely type of resident the status quo appeals to.
In short, we build more of what created the problem in the first place. A few years ago I asked B.C. Housing’s Vancouver Island operations manager what the single best thing local governments could do to improve affordability in their community.
His response was simply “build out to the density in their OCPs.”
This is one of the principal goals of the legislation, and it is incredibly necessary.
As a case in point, one young family in Qualicum Beach proposed a duplex in an area our OCP sets out for increased density. The proposed duplex would have been roughly half the density that our OCP calls for.
When the land was added to the town in 1957, that area was set aside for duplexes.
Nevertheless, several citizens attended the public hearing and complained about traffic, construction, and a change in community character.
And so our council mandated that they build a single family home instead, with a suite on the property that frankly is more likely to be an Airbnb than a rental.
These types of decisions are replicated in local governments throughout the province, and it is often only when the press happens to report on a particular decision that is out of step with the pressing issues in their community that the loss of the greater good comes to the forefront, and local governments find ways to rethink their positions.
Individually, decisions such as these obviously don’t create a housing crisis, but collectively they have over time, in conjunction with restrictive zoning that makes it easier to build a mansion than a modest duplex.
This legislation will have beneficial results for communities as a whole in the long run, although I will note that at times this will be inconvenient for some homeowners.
As well, continued support for programs that support non-profit housing like the Rental Protection Fund and the Community Housing Fund will be necessary to ensure people with limited means are able to keep a roof over their heads for a fair cost.
In the end, based on the information from the outcomes of similar legislation in other jurisdictions such as Auckland and Minneapolis, the provincial government should ultimately be commended for taking the housing crisis seriously, even if it might prove difficult, even if some might find it galling, because it is necessary for the province to do so.