Housing supply is at the core of Chamber advocacy. Greater Victoria, like much of North America, is facing a crunch — not enough homes are being built to meet demand. This affects the cost of living for employees, delays people from starting a family and impacts the availability of shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
A group of Canadian housing sector organizations recently released the National Housing Accord: A Multi-Sector Approach to Ending Canada’s Rental Housing Crisis. The report offers 10 solutions that aim to focus the efforts of all levels of government and industry on policies to support more building.
"It's a bit of a Catch 22 in that we need skilled tradespeople to build homes so that the market has enough supply for skilled tradespeople to be able to afford to live here," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The lack of housing affects people at all income levels but is particularly concerning for people early in their careers and those who have the added costs that come with raising kids."
The City of Victoria has added an electric fire truck to its growing fleet of electric vehicles. The Rosenbauer Revolutionary Technology pumper fire engine, currently being assembled, is expected to arrive by the end of the year. Funding from the provincial government allowed the city to purchase the electric fire engine for about the same cost as a typical fire engine.
Vancouver and Brampton are the only other fire departments in Canada that have ordered RT electric fire engines, which are in use in Los Angeles, Berlin, Amsterdam and Dubai.
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:
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 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.
Making downtown Victoria cleaner and safer benefits our entire region.
Last week, the City of Victoria announced the Our Dwtn revitalization program to attract people back to downtown. The city has allocated $1 million for the plan, which includes a Feet on the Street program utilizing VicPD foot patrols and city bylaw officers to provide a more visible presence. The intent is to help people feel safer.
The program also includes a mix of cultural and retail programs to enhance the experience of being downtown.
In June, the city and the Downtown Victoria Business Association are hosting a Scrub-Up event to refresh the area ahead of the busy summer season.
Chamber op-ed calls for regional approach to Greater Victoria's collective downtown
By the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, Downtown Victoria Business Association, and the Urban Development Institute – Capital Region.
There has been a lot of talk lately about downtown Victoria.
Some of the talk is positive. Greater Victoria often ranks highly in lists of desirable places to live, work and visit. Our region has a sterling reputation — especially to people who aren’t from here.
But it would seem many of us believe our own bad publicity. Have we taken on an inferiority complex?
Crime and violence are real but not rampant as some would have us believe. And at the root of these issues are housing and mental illness.
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.”
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 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.
Rethinking governance in Greater Victoria has been a popular topic of coffee shops, talk radio and opinion columns for decades. The Chamber has long advocated for better regional services and we're happy to see the Citizens' Assembly process back on track between the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich.
On Monday, the mayors of Saanich and Victoria as well as two councillors from each municipality met to talk about next steps. The municipalities and the provincial government are splitting the $750,000 cost of holding a Citizens' Assembly.
The assembly will have 27 people from Saanich and 21 from Victoria based on population. Ideally, it will also be representative of the municipalities' demographics regarding gender and age as well as the ratio of renters vs. homeowners and Indigenous population.
A progress report is due at the end of this year.
Municipalities across Greater Victoria are working through their budget deliberations, and the decisions made by local councils often have a direct impact on our daily lives.
The Chamber acknowledges the work done by all of our region's mayors and councils, and we urge them to stick to the principles and values that create great communities. Taxes need to be fair and affordable, services need to meet expectations and people need to feel safe.
"I speak with our area mayors often and I know they understand the importance of business and they say they want to help and not unfairly add regulatory and financial hurdles," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And I know that most of the business owners I speak with understand the importance of taxes and paying a fair share for operating in a municipality. In return they expect proper levels of policing to keep their employees, customers and property safe, and thoughtful investment in infrastructure, programs and services that improves everyone's quality of life."
Provincial legislation requires municipalities adopt their financial plans by March 31 and tax rate bylaws before May 15.
The City of Victoria is moving forward on a bylaw that will require restaurants to serve food and drinks in reusable containers. The bylaw will also make single-use straws, stir sticks and utensils only available by request.
Victoria council made the decision at its March 9 Committee of the Whole meeting and will look to ratify the new rules at the March 23 council meeting. The bylaw would then go through readings in April before going to the BC Ministry of Environment for approval before being officially adopted.
City council did decide not to look at imposing a fee for using disposable cups and containers, noting that the impact would not likely be worth the burden it would add to businesses.
If the measure makes it though all stages of approvals, businesses will have a grace period to implement the rules.
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.
Parking in downtown Victoria is one of those topics that has sparked debate in coffee shops, board rooms and council chambers for decades. Whether its a frustrated driver searching for an open spot or a cyclist lamenting car-centric culture, it seems we all have an opinion on parking.
That said, compromise is unavoidable if we want to make progress as a region on this extremely complex issue. Parking has been in the news recently as the City of Victoria looks to raise revenue to cover rising expenses. One idea council is considering is to expand the hours that drivers are required to pay for street parking.
Another recent story involving parking involves plans by Merchant House Capital to build a 12-storey tower with 160 rental units on Douglas Street where the heritage Victoria Press Building (former home of the Times Colonist) is located. Currently, the plans state that no parking will be provided for the rental units. The proposal will go to the neighbourhood community at a meeting on March 20 before a formal proposal is submitted for municipal approval.
Meanwhile, another important project that could add 1,500 much-needed homes in downtown Victoria has taken an unexpected turn. The duly considered proposal by Starlight Investments for Harris Green has passed third reading but now has additional amendments to parking requirements that need to be addressed before the plan is adopted.
"I know that Victoria city council has agreed that housing supply is a top priority for residents of the entire region, of which downtown is an important part of," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And we know that part of the attraction of living downtown is its proximity to the many services and experiences in neighbouring municipalities. It's one thing to walk or cycle to work on weekdays, but many people use their weekends to shop outside the city proper, or to visit forests and beaches that are a short car ride away."
Regardless of personal opinions about parking, the fact is we continue to require it — for residents, delivery drivers and commuters. Parents need vehicles to transport kids from care and school to sports and activities. Seniors and others with mobility issues use vehicles to get from point to point, and often require parking close to their destination.
With the adoption of zero emission standards and accelerating shift to electric vehicles, opinions about the future of driving are shifting. Care needs to be taken before we lose a resource that is vital to commerce, and that will be essentially impossible to get back when it's gone.
Employers need employees, so there's reason to applaud initiatives that make our region more attractive as a place to live, work and raise a family. Making neighbourhoods more accessible for people to walk or cycle to work, and making those routes safer, are steps in the right direction.
“We know that people make healthier, greener transportation choices when the options are there,” said Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, who serves as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Last week, the province announced $20 million in funding for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants program to help cover costs of multi-use pathways, protected bike lanes, pedestrian bridges and regional connections, as well as lighting, sidewalks and other safety improvements. Greater Victoria projects include: