CMHC announced the total housing starts for 2019 and it doesn’t look good for a number of municipalities. While it can be argued a market softening was coming due to the mortgage stress test, BC speculation tax, and other regulations, severe declines highlight the challenges of doing business in several local municipal halls. The most significant declines in new housing are in Central Saanich at -75%; Oak Bay -73%; Saanich -62%. All three are notorious for embracing high fees, slow permit processes, and regulatory challenges like the flawed Step Code. North Saanich also dropped -54%, another Step Code proponent. Most of these municipalities are leaping from Step 1 to Step 3 adding $20,000 to the cost of a new home.
These municipal mayors and councils are inaugurated into our 2019 Hall of Shame for New Housing. They talk a big game about housing affordability and then do the opposite resulting in double digit housing declines. Saanich stands out as the largest municipality that dropped from 539 new homes in 2018 to 203 in 2019. With the largest population of 114,000, they approved fewer homes than Esquimalt (223); Sooke (248); Langford (1,289); Colwood (428); Victoria (688). Saanich also recently approved a triple digit increase in Development Cost Charge fees, which developers say will further obstruct new housing in the municipality. This is despite the fact the Bank of Canada says housing is needed due to “healthy employment, wage growth, and immigration-fuelled population growth.”
The problem is federal policies don’t appear to hold any sway with municipal councils.
On the positive side, Langford has the most efficient development processes and still builds 37% of all new housing in the Greater Victoria region. Also, a special mention to Esquimalt where housing starts jumped 418%.
Victoria council is driving builders out of their municipality with challenging rezoning policies and costs, and Esquimalt is reaping the benefits. Victoria council will develop empty parking lots but are disinclined to redevelop neighbourhoods. However, they are running out of parking lots. One example is a rental project on Burdett, rejected despite council claiming to want more rental. A multi-family project on Cook St was left in limbo for 2 years despite meeting the density limits in the Official Community Plan.
The only question remains is: Who should be Mayor of the 2019 Municipal Hall of Shame? There are many contenders, from Victoria’s Councillor Ben Isitt to Saanich’s Councillor Natalie Chambers. But the Mayor’s chair must go to Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes for bait and switch – claiming affordability was his priority and then voted for virtually every added cost and obstruction to housing – from triple digit DCC increases to Step Code to relegating market housing to the back of the permit line.
As for Isitt and Chambers, don’t despair – there is always next year to be Mayor of the Hall of Shame. ; )