Housing supply is emerging as the root of many challenges facing Greater Victoria and the economy of Canada as a whole. To try and address some of the foundational causes of a lack of housing, the Community Social Planning Council has released a toolkit for local government. Local Government Levers for Housing Affordability addresses how housing affects everything from "staffing shortages to wage pressure to homelessness."
The document gathers policy tools that have been used successfully by large and small municipalities across the country.
A panel of experts has been tasked with developing a Community Safety and Well-Being Plan for the City of Victoria. The goal is to address multiple complex issues such as "declining civility and social cohesion, increasing social disorder, inadequate housing supply and homelessness, poverty, inequality, addictions, mental and physical health challenges, criminal activity and other factors."
The panel will work over the next 15 months to advise Victoria council on immediate interventions as well as long-term solutions.
"I’m in frequent contact with the business community throughout the downtown and beyond and I’m consistently hearing that the impact of the pandemic is far from over," Fort Properties Ltd. CEO/co-owner Suzanne Bradbury said in the city's news release. "I believe that this is the right initiative at the right time and I’m honoured to bring a small business perspective.”
Along with Bradbury, the panel includes:
In Greater Victoria, The Chamber serves as the voice of business by amplifying what we hear from our members. We can then further raise the volume by working with our national network to include the questions and concerns of more than 200,000 businesses across Canada.
A recent example is the 2024 pre-budget recommendations submitted by the Canadian Chamber to the federal government. The submission calls for for investment in trade-enhancing infrastructure, easing the burden of doing business, facilitating the transition to net-zero, enabling an innovative economy, attracting and retaining talent and taking a lead role in life sciences.
To learn more about the work done by The Chamber's Public Policy and Advocacy committee, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City of Victoria is considering a program that will help spruce up the look of businesses in the downtown core. The Business Façade Beautification Reimbursement Program is on the agenda for Thursday's council meeting. The city and the Downtown Victoria Business Association would split the cost of the program.
“This is an incentive to the property owners and the businesses on that block to join together and make their block look better," DVBA CEO Jeff Bray told the Times Colonist. "And I think when you do that over a handful of key blocks, it will be very noticeable.”
The Township of Esquimalt and the Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce introduced the Business Façade Improvement Project this year.
"As the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, we support investment in our very important downtown centres," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "They're not all the same, of course, but they all need to be safe communities. The best way to do that is to support community pride led by local business."
One of the ways we can help employers address labour shortages is by improving regional transportation planning. Making commutes more convenient opens up areas outside of the core where housing costs can be less expensive. Efficient transportation is also vital for reducing harmful emissions.
The Chamber applauds the recent move by the Capital Regional District to prioritize transportation governance in Greater Victoria. The CRD Board has asked for feedback from municipalities, local areas, the province and relevant agencies to help with future decisions about how to shift modes of transportation, reduce emissions and better address congestion.
The Capital Regional District board wants to help address our region's housing supply shortage by taking on more projects. The regional district can't add more to its plate unless it increases its borrowing authority. Its current cap is fully committed to new homes already under development.
“Our region’s housing crisis continues to need our dedicated perseverance to make progress,” CRD Board Chair Colin Plant said in a news release. “We need to be nimble, we need to be determined, and we need to signal a willingness to invest in solutions so we can quickly take advantage of new housing opportunities and provincial or federal government programs that will allow us to secure more units for those in need in this region.”
The CRD intends to increase its borrowing authority through the Land Assembly, Housing and Land Banking service to $85 million to support new projects or the opportunity to invest in potential partnerships.
The Regional Housing First Program is an example of the type of partnership that could benefit from an increase to the CRD’s borrowing authority. The program has brought 13 approved capital projects and 1,325 units to the region since 2019.
The Chamber applauds the ongoing investment in new workers through the Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning Pathways. Camosun College received $240,625 in funds for 2022/23. and, this year, the province is providing $3.8 million to help students earn pre-requisites for post-secondary programs they need to meet career goals.
The provincial government released the first cohort of municipalities that have been targeted to increase housing supply. The City of Victoria as well as the District of Saanich and the District of Oak Bay are on the list.
The Housing Supply Act allows the province to set housing targets that encourage municipalities to make construction more efficient so housing can be built faster. Some of the suggested tools include updated zoning bylaws and streamlined approval processes.
“The housing crisis is hurting people and holding back our economy, and we’re taking action with our partners to cut red tape and get homes built faster for people. Municipalities are our critical partners in addressing the housing crisis and building healthy, economically viable communities,” BC's Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon said.
“We welcome being part of a first wave of communities challenged to accelerate building homes for people," Victoria mayor Marianne Alto said. "These targets reflect the city’s own commitment to housing current and future Victorians.”
The other municipalities are Abbotsford, Delta, Kamloops, North Vancouver, Port Moody, Vancouver and West Vancouver. A second cohort of 10 municipalities will be announced later this year.
E-bike are being lauded as a game changer for getting commuters to make the shift from cars to active transportation. And, to help more people choose an e-bike as a way to get around, the province is offering rebates to all British Columbians over 19. Based on income, rebates range from $350 to $1,400, with $6 million available to subsidize as many as 9,000 e-bike purchases.
The program will be administered by the Scrap-It Society.
Efficient regional transportation is one of the keys to attracting and retaining workers. E-bikes also produce less emissions than motor vehicles as well as being a healthier alternative for commuters — especially those with sedentary jobs.
If you're interested, check out Chamber members who supply or service e-bikes.
The minimum wage in this province makes a significant jump tomorrow, going from $15.65 to $16.75 an hour.
The increase was previously announced on April 5.
"This is a cost increase that will affect more than people who pay or are paid minimum wage," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "With inflation still very much dominating business news, we are concerned that this measure will prolong the pain by increasing prices for consumers and suppliers and prevent the Bank of Canada from lowering interest rates in the near term."
BC now has the highest minimum wage of any province in Canada.
How will this affect your business? Will you need to raise prices or reduce staff? Email email@example.com. Your feedback helps inform The Chamber's advocacy efforts when we speak with decision makers in government.
Creating more housing supply is key to making Greater Victoria more economically sustainable. Employers need staff, and employees need to be able to afford where they live. With homes in high demand in our region, we need all levels of government to be part of the solution.
The Chamber applauds the recent decision by the District of Saanich to create more homes in the municipality. The New Small Apartment Infill Zone will allow single-family lots to be redeveloped as multi-unit apartments. There are guidelines to ensure the zoning is used on appropriate lots.
“We have heard that there’s an interest in building these in Saanich,” Saanich Mayor Dean Murdoch told the Times Colonist. “We’ve got a very large university and college campuses in Saanich and there’s a desire to build housing types like this that would serve that student population.”
Phase 1 of a project that shows how innovation led by business can help with some of our community's most complex challenges has officially opened.
The Dalmation, located at 1021 Johnson St., was built by Jawl Residential Ltd. (Dalmation Developments), and features 130 rental units, office space and a new firehall for the Victoria Fire Department within an eight-storey building. The homes will rent for between $375 and $2,900 per month based on unit size and resident income. The next phases of the project will include more than 480 market-rate rental homes and a diverse mix of commercial, retail and restaurant space, as well as dedicated public spaces, including a 250-square-metre public plaza.
“We are very proud of the work that went into developing and constructing The Dalmatian and Victoria Fire Department Headquarters," Director of Development for Dalmatian Developments David Jawl said in a news release. "The completion of this project is a wonderful example of how partnerships between the private and public sector can succeed to deliver much-needed housing and safety infrastructure in our communities.”
The project is a partnership between BC Housing, the City of Victoria, Pacifica Housing and Dalmatian Developments. It is the largest purpose-built affordable rental project of its kind in downtown Victoria.
The provincial government announced Tuesday that is focusing on five pillars to help businesses find and keep employees. They are:
“I’m hearing from businesses, small and large, that finding skilled labour is one of their biggest challenges,” said BC Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey, who will be speaking at The Chamber's Business Leader Luncheon on Monday, May 8.
As Greater Victoria municipalities reveal their 2023 budgets, many businesses are finding out if they'll face higher taxes this year.
Victoria, for example, has seen operating costs surge due to inflation and new spending. City council tried to scale back but businesses and residents are still facing hundreds of dollars in new costs. The typical business property assessed at $714,000 will pay an extra $445 despite getting few of the services or benefits provided to residents.
It's much worse for industrial lands, which face a 37% increase that could add hundreds of thousands to major operations.
"It's clear that we have work to do to help many of the new councillors in our region understand why reducing business taxes is an investment in community," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, noting that businesses need cost certainty and many were hit with rising inflation as they were beginning to return to normal after the pandemic.
"These businesses provide goods and services as well as jobs for their owners and employees. Jobs that are at risk of going away if the business is unaffordable," Williams said. "And in the case of industry, these new taxes effectively replace good jobs with money for the city to spend. That's wrong. We need to invest in our marine industries, especially, to preserve the value they add to our region."
The Chamber's 160th annual general meeting took place April 18 at the Inn at Laurel Point.
After making sure operations and financials were in order, members in attendance were treated to a frank discussion with BC's Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon. Chamber CEO Bruce Williams emceed the session and asked about the provincial government's plan to increase housing supply.
The minister noted that legislation had been introduced that morning that will help projects avoid time-consuming delays.
Among other topics was a discussion about the need to remove barriers for skilled workers coming here from other countries and provinces. Delays in the recognition of credentials has been an ongoing concern for newcomers wanting to work in their chosen professions. Minister Kahlon encouraged The Chamber to continue advocating for change, noting the message is being heard. He pointed to efforts to increase BC's health care workforce that are beginning to pay off.
Also discussed were increasing student housing to free up rental properties for workers, strategies to house the homeless and using public land to build non-market housing following models that have proven successful elsewhere.
"The Chamber is grateful to Minister Kahlon for sharing his time with our members to talk about the many challenges facing housing in Greater Victoria and the province," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "This year's annual general meeting was the 160th time we've reported to our members and we are working to make sure the next 12 months are successful for our organization, for all our member businesses and for everyone in our community."
A new era for rapid transit in Greater Victoria began this week with the launch of BC Transit's Blink RapidBus Route 95. The first of the orange-topped buses hit the road Monday, taking passengers from Downtown Victoria to Langford. The new route replaces Route 50 and promises more convenient service with buses running every seven to eight minutes in peak times.
"Rapid transit takes time to implement, so while this modest step will increase our service levels, frequency and reliability for customers, more infrastructure is needed to make Blink RapidBus even faster," states BC Transit's website.
The Chamber applauds the City of Victoria council for its willingness to listen and make decisions that contribute to a great community for all.
Victoria council has voted to approve the Harris Green redevelopment that will add 1,500 much-needed rental units. Council also agreed to restore funding for a late-night policing program that has shown proven results.
Chamber members are clear that safe communities and affordable housing, which helps employers find and keep workers, are among their top advocacy priorities.
The minimum wage in BC is going up to $16.75 an hour starting June 1. The increase is expected to affect 150,000 employees in the province. The current minimum wage is $15.65 an hour.
The new rate was brought in to reflect the high rate of inflation in 2022. After the change, BC will have the second highest minimum wage in Canada after the Yukon, where it is $16.77 an hour.
"The Chamber is concerned about how businesses will be affected by this decision, which was made without adequate consultation," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Most of our members pay their employees higher than minimum wage but this increase has the potential to create a domino effect that will add unexpected costs for all businesses as well as for consumers who ultimately pay the price."
A high-level plan to disrupt housing supply in BC was announced by the province on Monday.
“Even though our province is currently building more housing than ever before, it’s just not enough to meet the need," BC Premier David Eby said in a news release.
The province identified four areas of focus that it says will increase the number of available homes, make them more affordable, help people in need and reduce the appeal of homes as short-term investments.
Most of the changes will come after legislation is introduced in the fall, though critics are questioning whether the proposals will inadvertently make housing less affordable.
"Everyone agrees that we need more housing supply," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "There are some positive ideas in this announcement but we'll need to see more details to know how this will impact things like municipal governance and how realistic the plan is, given the dire need for more skilled workers to build enough homes to meet demand."
The fight against inflation is working as the Consumer Price Index for February was down 5.2% year over year. That compares to 5.9% in January and is the largest deceleration since April 2020. Lower costs at the pumps and for home energy helped lower the CPI, while the cost of groceries remains high as supply constraints and weather-related production issues is adding to the cost of food.
The global economy is getting back to normal but there's still a ways to go, says the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Chief Economist Stephen Tapp.
"In this context, the latest Canadian Survey on Business Conditions shows that costs and labour issues remain the biggest near-term obstacles for Canadian companies," Tapp said the Q1 2023 Canadian Survey on Business Conditions Report. "Even as higher interest rates slow demand, there are a few bright spots. First, while long-standing supply-side bottlenecks for the workforce and supply chains remain elevated, they have eased in recent surveys. This might be
because businesses are taking proactive steps to address these problems, such as raising wages, embracing flexible work options and working with suppliers. Second, while the near-term outlook for sales is clearly subdued, all things considered, most companies remain optimistic about the year ahead, especially larger firms and those in services."
The Chamber applauds news of a Canadian Armed Forces housing benefit that will help make life a little more affordable for people stationed at CFB Esquimalt. With one of the higher costs of living in the country, Greater Victoria is a challenging region for employers looking to find and keep employees. This is amplified when people living in areas with lower housing costs are asked to move here for their job.
The Canadian Forces Housing Differential takes effect July 1 and replaces the current allowance for members of the military living in expensive communities. The new benefit is tied to income to help lower earning members.
The Chamber is also supportive of ongoing efforts to develop more housing for CFB Esquimalt members. The Department of National Defence has previously announced plans for an 84-unit apartment on the base.
"This is a great example of how non-market housing can help add homes to our region's housing supply that are catered to the needs of a specific employer or sector," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "This will eventually allow for more market homes to be available to people in other industries."
The end of Flower Count is a good sign that patio season is right around the corner. Last week, the hard work of business and industry associations was rewarded when the provincial government announced it was giving businesses more time to make outdoor seating permanent. The deadline has been extended to Dec. 31, 2024.
During the early days of the pandemic, many restaurants, pubs, bars and breweries found innovative solutions to create safe spaces for customers. These outdoor areas were well received by the public and helped economic activity thrive. To support the efforts of business, the province provided temporary expanded service area (TESA) authorizations to thousands of liquor-licensed businesses.
“Many licensees have not applied to make their TESA permanent due to the stress and pressure as a result of the effects of the pandemic and the unprecedented labour shortage," BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association president and CEO Ian Tostenson said. "We would like to thank government for being conscious of this and providing the much-needed extension.”
Meanwhile, the CIty of Victoria will have to decide tomorrow, March 16, how it will proceed with its new Patio Regulation Bylaw. The bylaw updates the emergency measures implemented during the pandemic to provide more municipal oversight. City staff have been engaging with businesses and neighbourhood groups to develop its rules before the provincial TESA program was originally supposed to end. Now that an extension has been granted, the City should have more time to ensure its changes are workable for businesses.
Seeing tiny buds turn to bright blossoms is a sure sign of spring. Another, at least in Greater Victoria, is the growing buzz around the region's real estate. Sales in February were up 65.5% from the month before — though still down from February 2022.
"The market is seeing some positive growth as we move into springtime, which is traditionally the busiest market for home sales," Victoria Real Estate Board Chair Graden Sol said in a media release. "Inventory levels are starting to increase, a welcome trend when compared to the record lows of last year. We're also seeing a stabilization at some price points and properties that are priced in accordance with current market conditions are selling at a good pace."
There were 1,809 active MLS listings for sale in Greater Victoria at the end of February. That's up from 849 for the same period in 2022. The benchmark value of a single family home was $1.25 million in February, down from $1.32 million in February 2022. Benchmark value for a condo dropped from $580,900 to $568,200.
New legislation introduced yesterday by the provincial government will require employers to include wage or salary ranges on all advertised jobs. The move is aimed at closing the gender pay gap in BC. The new law, once passed, will prohibit employers from asking prospective employees about their pay history or prevent staff from disclosing their own pay to co-workers or job applicants.
The rules will take effect Nov. 1, and will also include a staged implementation of reporting requirements for employers.
BC's Ministry of Finance will publish an annual report by June 1 that will serve as centralized reporting of gender pay in British Columbia.
Camosun College announced last week it has selected a company to be pre-qualified to design, build and fund a film studio with education components.
The Visionary Group of Toronto will now enter into discussions with Camosun to determine the scope, timelines and cost for the project.
In 2021, the province gave Camosun $150,000 to explore educational opportunities for students in the BC film industry and the potential development of an on-campus film studio. The project has been touted for land at Camosun's Interurban Campus in the District of Saanich.