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Oak Bay Housing, another year lost...

On Monday March 12th, 2018, Oak Bay Council voted to defer the real work on housing for another year.

A motion was made to advance a process around secondary suites, as follows: that “staff be directed to prepare a report… with the stated goals of creating a public engagement plan to develop and implement policy, regulations, and bylaws for secondary suites.”

Three and half years into the Council term expected to implement the Official Community Plan, we have a motion that has created a mix of anxiety and excitement in our community but does so little it warrants neither reaction.

"We need to draft regulations for housing that meets all community needs"

Unfortunately, as secondary suites already exist in significant numbers in Oak Bay, implementing regulation in isolation will like likely shut a number of suites down without concurrently creating other viable rental options. Further, as the Official Community Plan says quite clearly: “Secondary suites satisfy the needs of only a small sector of the population who want rental housing. Many people, particularly older people, regard such suites as unsuitable for their needs, lifestyles or expectations.”

I, and others, have advocated consistently for Oak Bay to develop a housing plan. We need to draft regulations for housing that meets all community needs: for the elderly, mobility challenged, families, students… and to ensure commercial centers have residents nearby. Spending a large amount of money and staff time on a single housing type that already exists postpones, once again, doing any meaningful work in moving our community forward. This motion was also made in the full knowledge that it can’t be completed before the next election; Councillor Ney stated the process would probably take at least a year and Mayor Jensen admitted in the Times Colonist that “really what it aims to do is just set a start point for what will be a very robust public engagement process over the issue of secondary suites.” In other words: generate media coverage, talk, and finish nothing.

"a spectacular lack of vision and ambition over the last 6 years"

To try to accomplish something meaningful from this motion and provide the next Council with a starting point to work on broader housing options, I tabled an amendment motion. My amendment asked staff to include other housing options along with secondary suites as part of a planned housing model. This was voted down, as have all prior motions to support planned housing development, with the current Mayor casting his usual deciding vote of “NO” to planned development options.

The mayor's vote highlights the spectacular lack of vision and ambition over the last 6 years. It is no wonder the community is feeling split and threatened when there is no certainty for owners, neighbours, or builders as to what will be built in our community.

As to the question of secondary suites: after my amendment to support planned development was defeated, I agreed to respect the will of Council and voted to move the process forward, subject to a report from staff on the time and money it will take. But to be clear: regulating existing housing stock is a distant “second best” option for our community, and it is a shame that a real dialogue on housing needs in our community is now delayed for another year.

My four-pillar model has PLAN as a key component, for many of the reasons cited here, and more. Planning allows us to build our infrastructure to community needs, allows implementation of amenity and development cost charges, and the planning process leverages the expertise and experience of the broader community in decision making. We need to work to a plan to build, fund, and foster a better Oak Bay.

[EDIT] Staff have returned a report for the March 26th Council meeting showing that the secondary suites process would take approximately 13 months, cost around $60,000 in consulting fees, and staff capacity means the work won't begin until July.

[EDIT #2] On August 17th, 5 weeks before the election, on a 4-3 split vote, Council voted to commit $60,000 and two years of the next Council's mandates to a suites-only approach to housing.

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