I wanted to write something about the Affordable Housing Task force workshop that I attended on Monday night. But I have struggled to pull something useful together about this event that was held to receive input on the proposed draft recommendations that have been put forward. I can tell you the first thing I did was put these recommendations in a spreadsheet so that they made more sense to look at.
Here by the way is a PDF of this spreadsheet which neatly depicts how the 25 recommendations are captured by two main themes and spread across 3 years (2016-18). The two themes include:
- Increase City of Victoria’s capacity to support development of affordable housing
- Remove barriers to the development of more affordable housing options
As context to these items it is important to remember the terms of reference for this Affordable Housing task force (available here) which identifies their mandate as:
To provide recommendations to Victoria City Council on innovative housing policy solutions, including measures within municipal jurisdiction, that will increase the supply of new units of low-cost housing, defined as a unit that a person earning minimum wage or receiving a pension can afford to live in.
For those of you who have been reading me for a while, you will know that I have written previously of my concerns about the task force as a result of its unclear structure and intent. When I attempted to seek clarity from Council of these concerns at their April 16th council meeting I wasn’t given much of an answer.
And even with many very intelligent people in the audience Monday night and many intelligent questions posed at the public mic there wasn’t much clarity provided by our Mayor or her task force. Let me show you a clip of one speaker who reflected the general tone of Monday night, which was an odd mix of praise & confusion:
The response from Mayor Helps reflected similar comments made by her throughout the night which included:
- The taskforce has “struggled.”
- The landscape is always changing.
- The process is “clunky”.
It is this word “clunky” that I want to pick up on. But instead of using it like Helps to excuse the messiness of her process, even though she was the one who called a task force to solve a problem that seemingly hasn’t been defined, I’m going to use it to demand more. And I am going to demand more because I hate excuses for shitty process. Especially when they come from a City Council who has been ostensibly committed to affordable housing since 2008 and who is also the local municipal body responsible for approving residential units in the City.
Which is to say, you would think they have access to relevant data?
But when you check out the Housing page in the City website you will see for instance, that their latest Annual Housing report is the 2013 report and the 2014 update won’t be available until July 16th.
Which is to say, it takes the City six months to cull their own data to produce the most basic of reports on housing stock built out in the previous year. And I mention this because how can you begin determine need for Affordable Housing if you don’t even have definitive or recent data on housing stock that you’ve permitted? Related to this, I just want to point out that there is a report on the Thursday GPC agenda which seeks Council guidance on what they call “historical items” (e.g., those which are not part of the city’s new Strategic Plan) and many of these foundational items that are directly related previously housing related efforts of Council.
But they no longer fit in the new strategic plan.
Which is to suggest, that this Housing Affordability Task Force (part of the Strategic Plan) may be just the latest in a line of half efforts to address a problem that still hasn’t been defined. Or is it too mean and sceptical of me to suggest as much?
The final thing I would like to highlight is just that the City only has one Social Planner in their employ – he was the man who spoke at the end of the video clip pasted in above. And I mention this because Council priorities are typically reflected in staffing but this doesn’t seem to be the case with the City and as a result, any debate or discussion about Housing, be it supportive or affordable, is “clunky”.
But does it have to be?
With the inclusion of Make Victoria More Affordable in their Strategic Plan (see page 7) is the City finally establishing themselves to fully get a grasp on this complex issue? Looking again to new documents being presented to GPC on Thursday I noted that there are targeted first quarter accomplishments and 2015 Operational Plan items being presented to Council that are specific to accomplishment of this Strategic priority of “making Victoria more affordable”. Which is good.
But what does it all mean in the context of the nebulous mandate provided to the Affordable Housing taskforce for providing “innovative policy solutions”? This was something I attempted to inquire about when I spoke at the end of the open mic for public input on Monday night.
So who is even on the taskforce?
Members of the AH Task Force
Membership is comprised in large part by representatives from major groups like the Urban Development Institute, Together against Poverty Society, Community Social Planning Council, Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, Greater Victoria Housing Society and Landlord BC. Whether this is a comprehensive list of major stakeholders, I honestly do not know.
Private business representatives on the task force include:
- Rob Bernhardt, Bernhardt Contracting (member at-large)
- Leonard Cole, Urban Core Ventures (member at-large)
- Franc D’Ambrosio, D’Ambrosio architecture + urbanism (member at-large)
- Peter de Hoog, de Hoog & Kierulf Architects (member at-large)
- Gene Miller, New Landmarks (member at-large)
- Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
- Jeff Dean, Victoria citizen (member at-large)
- Bernice Kamano, Victoria citizen (member at-large)
Since there was no public application period for this task force, I assume that all of these folks were appointed by Mayor Helps for some reason (not publicly disclosed) or another. And this is a shame because there were a number of folks who spoke on Monday night and who sounded as though they certainly had knowledge and experience that seems to be missing from the task force.
Related to this, I just want to note that the task force only appears to meeting for a total of 5 two afternoon meetings (see schedule here) and it is during this time, that they are expected to provide innovative solutions that presumably trump the previous seven years of related work by the City. But then I suppose since the City only employs 1 social planner it would be unreasonable to expect that that their efforts over the past 7 years have been anywhere close to innovative. What do you think?
If you’re interested in the work of the task force, I highly recommend that you check out the separate Filepro section that includes all the agenda packages related to the Affordable Housing Taskforce.
Here is the video from Monday night and here are some photos.
Time for mingling
You all have until June 15th to get your comments in regarding the efforts of the Affordable Housing Task force. Send them to: