Saanich will create a Housing Strategy but with a shorter timeline and a stakeholder task force in hopes of reducing costs.
Council unanimously approved the terms of reference for the Housing Strategy on May 25 with amendments by Coun. Zac de Vries who proposed that a task force be created to work on the strategy and that engagement be conducted with smaller focus groups rather than through a housing forum.
According to the proposed terms of reference presented by staff, the Saanich Housing Strategy will be a document to guide efforts to increase housing affordability and diversity in the municipality. The Housing Strategy has five focus areas: increasing the supply of affordable, accessible housing for low to moderate-income families, working towards a diverse housing supply, revitalizing the rental-housing supply, looking for ways to reduce access barriers and strengthening partnerships and building community awareness.Staff recommended the strategy be developed in four stages over the course of one year with a budget of about $120,000.
De Vries recommended council endorse an alternative approach to reign in the timeline and reduce costs by appointing a task force of 10 to 20 stakeholders and replacing the forum with focus groups.
He sees the task force as a way for Saanich to hit the “restart” button and take a fresh approach to the issue. By inviting residents, council and industry stakeholders to the table, a collective solution can be created to manage the “incredible unaffordability” seen in Saanich and across the province, he said.
Doing away with the forum in favour of focus groups would allow Saanich to engage the public safely without halting the work altogether, de Vries said, adding that groups could meet online or in a large room.
Public input is “fundamental to developing the Housing Strategy,” he said, but a town hall forum isn’t realistic with physical distancing restrictions due to COVID-19.
This is an opportunity for council to show residents that they’re “walking the walk” when it comes to developing an affordable housing plan, de Vries said.
The public will also have a number of other opportunities to weigh in on the Housing Strategy online and during council meetings, de Vries said.
The timeline for the development of the Housing Strategy will be solidified once staff come back to council with details for establishing the task force and other aspects of the plan.
Council also agreed to allocate up to $120,000 of the 2018 surplus appropriation for the Local Area Plans to the creation of the Housing Strategy, though de Vries expects the new budget to be about $90,000. Saanich put Local Area Plans on hold in December 2019 so the District could reallocate resources to housing priorities.