The district of Saanich is looking for ways to build more living space – and to make it affordable
The mayor of Saanich wants the community to be more affordable – so he and the council are looking at ways to build more housing, both on and off market.
“Our goal is to make sure we build more homes for more people, faster,” said Dean Murdock.
Saanich is the most populous community in the Capital Regional District on southern Vancouver Island. According to the 2021 census, 117,735 people live in Saanich compared to 91,867 in neighboring Victoria.
A recent progress report on the district’s housing strategy shows there is still a housing shortage, with only 182 net new housing units approved in 2022, compared to a projected need of 610.
It also shows that while median home selling prices are up 145 to 191 percent (for townhouses, condos and single-family homes) and median rent is up 79 to 96 percent, median household income is up just 56 percent.
This data covers the years 2005 to 2022 and is sourced from the Victoria Real Estate Board, Statistics Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Murdock said the district is “actively” pursuing a plan to offer non-profit housing companies urban land where they could build off-market affordable housing.
“I think offering the land removes one of the key prohibitive costs that would make it more attractive for us to move forward,” Murdock said.
He cited the Nellie McClung branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library as one such place.
It is across from a grocery store, one block from a school and a few blocks from a shopping village.
Murdock said a new building could house the library on the ground floor and affordable housing units above.
The district hopes to attract the attention of the province investing in housing by offering land for such projects.
The mayor said the council is also working on changes to the official community plan that would allow off-market housing projects to be built with simple staff approval — rather than a lengthy process involving mayor and council approval and public hearings.
While Saanich isn’t investigating a full-scale rezoning like Victoria’s lack of funds initiative, which now allows certain-size condominium complexes to be built anywhere a single-family home can be built, Murdock said a study is currently underway to identify neighborhoods where this is the case is a rezoning could happen.
Murdock said such changes would be limited to urban parts of the district rather than the more rural and agricultural zones.
admit housing shortage
Diana Gibson, executive director of the Community Social Planning Council, is pleased to see Saanich looking at the data on what type of housing is needed and for what type of income.
Her organization researches solutions to social problems in Greater Victoria, including housing.
She said there is now a broader recognition that there is a housing crisis, but it still doesn’t seem like people are in crisis mode.
“All levels of government should step in with every single decision that is made to say if this will facilitate the fastest path to affordable housing that is currently possible?”
Gibson said local governments now have an opportunity to take the lead on nonprofit housing projects — something she would like to see Saanich and others do.