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Comment: Stopping new development hurts young families

Cordova Bay, Oak Bay and Rockland. Arguably, some of the best neighbourhoods across the region to raise your family in. And all of them are fighting to stop new development, which ultimately keeps young families out.

Cordova Bay, Oak Bay and Rockland. Arguably, some of the best neighbourhoods across the region to raise your family in. And all of them are fighting to stop new development, which ultimately keeps young families out.

It’s sad because a new generation of families like mine want to enjoy these great neighbourhoods, too. To enjoy a place where you can live, work and play, have access to shops and services and maybe even some wealth accumulation through property appreciation.

We want what you had. We have the same hopes and dreams for our families. To raise our kids where we feel safe and where we can walk them to schools and parks.

Well, we can’t.

The major undersupply of new housing in these neighbourhoods, combined with incredibly inflated house prices and, most importantly, staunch neighbourhood resistance to change of any kind, has kept us out. It’s the latter that really makes me angry and leaves me wondering what will become of my own family in Victoria.

As a newcomer and a mother of two young children who recently had to find suitable family housing, I can’t help but feel frustrated, resentful even, as I see development stopped across the region by what I call the “white-haired elite.” They look like my children’s grandparents and they come out en masse to cry foul at council meetings. They write letters to the paper and petition their neighbours to stop development.

They raise their standard calling cards of objection time and again: “It’s too tall,” “it’s too dense,” “there will be too much traffic” and, of course, the most clever objection of all: “We don’t oppose development, just this one!” (oh, and that one and that one, too).

Enough is enough.

The only way we are going to provide a relief valve to the housing market and ensure we aren’t all stuck in the Colwood Crawl for the rest of our lives is to allow density in the existing neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, developers asking for more than single-family homes face an uphill battle, with neighbours suggesting: “You should only build what the zoning tells you!” It’s as though they have all forgotten that we have official community plans, or that more people make neighbourhoods great, not worse.

Young families are facing a severe housing crisis in Victoria, and the resistance to creating attainable housing for young families, combined with the region’s civil servants’ obsession with the highest possible standards in architecture and urban design, is ensuring a solution will never be found. So the status quo remains, and we, the next generation of families, remain priced out. Destined to spend our lives in our vehicles, losing precious time with our kids and partners.

Unfortunately, the people who are elected to represent the public seem to have forgotten that “the public” is a broad swath of individuals, not just the “white-haired elite” who have had the privilege of enjoying these neighbourhoods. Councillors perpetuate the problem by validating the concerns of residents, limiting new supply and penalizing new families. They are failing to provide opportunity for a new generation, choosing instead to think only in election cycles and about their own self-interest.

I call this a complete failure to do their jobs — which is to spend our tax dollars responsibly. Our elected officials claim to want to solve housing problems, sitting in on endless conferences and meetings about what to do. But when the moment to take action comes, the fear of not being re-elected renders them useless, and another development is put on hold, further restricting supply and keeping families out.

In short, the system is broken. Resident groups hold far too much sway over our elected officials. So instead of voting in favour of supply, innovation and change, councillors vote development down.

But they get to vote another day.

I was once told the job of an elected official is not to do only what the people want, but what is good for the people. So I beg of the mayors and councillors of this region to remember that families are struggling to find housing and that the options that can work for us mean bringing density and height into the established neighbourhoods.

Most of us will never afford the single-family dream, but with your help, we can enjoy a livable neighbourhood, where we can live, work and play. Please remember that we can’t come to the endless council and community meetings to voice our concerns. We’re at home, raising our families, putting the kids to bed and reading good-night stories.

We’re relying on you to represent us. We’re relying on you to do what is good for the people, not what one group of people want.

 

Phoebe Hall lives in Victoria.