This is a post that has been in the works for a while now.
I attended the final meeting of the Mayor’s Housing Affordability Task Force back on June 30th (agenda here). It was quite interesting for many reasons – not only for how complex the issues of housing and housing affordability are with multiple actors and multiple stakeholders with multiple priorities but also for how the people gathered around the HATF table were behaving & interacting with each other.
In particular, there seemed to be some clear leaders at the table.
And the City’s senior social planner wasn’t one of them. But why do I mention this, especially since most of you will say “well good” he is staff, he shouldn’t be in charge. And I agree. But only to a point because he is the subject matter expert after all and affordable housing and the city’s ability to do things about it are his JOB.
Which is to say, that he likely has some clear ideas and recommendations for how the task force can do their best work and make the most impact by effectively pushing through the changes necessary to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city – because presumably the supply of affordable housing in the city needs to be increased.
Yet his every effort was couched in guarded obeisance.
And this doesn’t help anyone, especially Mayor Helps who kept focused instead on “clipping things ahead” so that she could purchase task force members a round of beer (with her own money) to celebrate. But what were they celebrating?
They were celebrating their finalization of a suite of recommendations for increasing affordable housing supply in the city of Victoria (report from Task Force for consideration on Thursday available here) as per their Terms of Reference (see ToR doc). Where this celebration was likely intended to mark completion of their work over the past few months, as captured through a series of six 2-2.5 hour meetings (meetings & agendas available in FilePro) careful examination of their meeting minutes shows that major share of recommendations finalized by the HATF at their finale meeting, were actually set in a Day 1 brain storming session (back on April 28th).
If you look at the minutes for that first meeting you’ll see that the major share of current recommendations were set during a general discussion on what were called Home Run Ideas (e.g., immediate action items or Ground Truthing according to Helps – not exploratory ideas). And it was this emphasis and idea of the need for immediate action that also dominated last Tuesday (read tweets from bottom to top from their June 30th meeting):
All told, it seems though the Task Force who were charged with providing:
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.
Did the majority of their work on the very first day.
Related to this, I also found it curious how at the end of the meeting last Tuesday, nearly everyone spoke of their gratitude for being asked to be involved in the task force and how much they learned. Forgive me for being a cynic, but shouldn’t task force members have been problem solving not learning? Aren’t task forces typically established to define and address problems? Given the complex regulatory and administrative requirements and processes of major stakeholders (such as the city) shouldn’t the first step of task force been to learn about the problem (supply of affordable housing) and what the city currently does before throwing out solutions?
In an effort to find context for my question, I did some research and found that the City of Vancouver equivalent of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability that was held a few years ago operated on the following mandate:
The Housing Affordability Task Force has been set up to examine the conditions that exist in Vancouver that create unaffordable housing and the steps necessary to protect existing affordable housing. They have also been asked to identify opportunities to increase affordable housing.
As part of what seemed to be a conscientious & deliberative process, the Vancouver task force also put out a tangible issue for public comment (see their PlaceSpeak page for more). The question was a tangible request for feedback on:
types of affordable building forms Vancouver residents would like to see in their neighbourhoods.
In comparison, we here in Victoria were given two vague themes, three equally ambiguous principles and 25 or so illogically presented and seemingly random recommendations for comment:
- Increase the City of Victoria’s capacity to support development of affordable housing, and
- Remove municipal barriers to the development of more affordable housing options.
- Increase Overall Housing Supply in City
- Generate and Allocate Additional City Revenue to Affordable Housing.
- Create Places where Everyone Wants to Live through Urban Planning Principles
Perhaps as a result of this scattershot process and assortment of nebulous and empty but fancy sounding good intentions, only 40 people attended a workshop in Victoria and 21 people submitted emails on the draft recommendations that had been made available for input (see engagement report presented to the HA Task Force last Tuesday). The paucity of feedback (despite many substantive submissions) was represented to the task force in an Outputs table that was created to quantify engagement. And because I submitted comments on each recommendation, I know that the majority of these votes 2 or 3 votes per recommendation were mine.
So again, what deserved celebration by the HATF last Tuesday?
The Final Task Force Meeting
As discussed, the purpose of this meeting was to consider feedback on draft recommendations and confirm deliverables to City Council. The meeting started with a presentation by the City’s Senior Social Planner on supposed affordable housing need as evidenced in a comparison of condo and apartment starts over the past 20 years or so. Here is the main slide that was shown at the final HATF meeting:
Two things about this slide:
The first is that the definition of Affordable Housing used by the HATF is rental (including utilities) that doesn’t cost more than 30% of one’s total take home pay with rents more than <30% considered unaffordable. There was quite the discussion at the final meeting where task force members spoke adamantly of needing to focus on Income Quartiles 2 & 3 (as shown in the slide above). The funny thing about this however, is that the quartiles ranges I found when I visited the BC Non-Profit Housing Association site cited by city staff, differ considerably from the quartiles ranges cited by staff.
The second thing about the slide are the numbers provided – the City needs to build a top end total of 1,382 Low End Market Rentals that would rent for between $454-$891 a month (avg $671) and a top end total of 255 Near Market Rental units (no clear definition available) that would rent for $892-$1,444 a month (avg $1,131). Related to this, is how, these necessary affordable rentals construction targets reflect 18.8% of the city’s total projected housing need, need that was originally identified in the housing chapter of the Official Community Plan approved back in 2012:
13,500 apartment units and an additional 2,700 ground-oriented housing units over the next 30 years.
These 16,200 units are necessary to accommodate the anticipated influx of 20,000 people by the year 2041 (e.g., 30 years from the time the OCP was written). But then on that note, does anyone else find it odd how 16,200 units are needed for 20,000 people? Why the assumption of so much solitary living? Mind you, this trend for independent living has been reinforced by recent rental construction reports which show Bachelor & 1 bedroom apartments as most frequently constructed.
My other reasons for mentioning these quartile ranges is because there was an interesting attempt at the meeting on Tuesday by the City staffer to convince the task force to make $35,000 – $71,000 their effective income range for applying to affordable housing.
Task force members didn’t like this though.
But what does it all mean?
To try and add some more context to this, I decided to do some extra calculations on the numbers provided by staff to the HATF last Tuesday. The first thing I did was divide the figures provided on the Renter Overspending page by the figures provided on the total rental unit page. By doing this I got the following percentages which seem to indicate that substantially more than 18.8% of rentals are in what could technically be considered unaffordable rental:
- 32% of Studio rentals
- 37% of 1 bedroom rentals
- 39% of 2 bedroom rentals
- 184% of 3+ bedroom rentals (presumably due to error in reporting of total available units unless of course there are only 190 of these units in the city?)
So what does this mean in terms of targeted construction projections that suggest affordable construction is only 19% of total construction need? I’m really not sure.
A secondary point I would like to make related to this, comes from taking a deeper look at the Renter Overspending chart shown last Tuesday which identified a total of 1,285 units (looking only at Q2 & Q3). This led me to a set of regional statistics that weren’t made available just for the City of Victoria for consideration by the final HATF meeting and this is the issue of “overcrowding” in rental suites (see BCNPHA for Victoria region stats). Which really seems to be an interesting measures from an affordability perspective as those with more people and less money would be most likely to end up overcrowded in smaller and more affordable units. Would they not?
I was then also left with the question of who might be living in both these rental units and other housing options across the city. In an effort to add context to this I headed to the City’s 2014 annual report to check out their population statistics on city residents (see page 4). From there I discovered the following statistics:
- Single 35%
- Married 30%
- Common law 13%
- Divorced 11%
- Widowed 7%
- Separated 4%
This means that on a superficial level, 43% of the City’s 80,017 residents (e.g., 34, 407 ppl) live together in an estimated 17,204 units of undetermined size (bachelor to multiple bedroom) with their approximately 8,000 or so kids. This then leaves us with 37,610 or so people living in some assortment of units with presumably at least a few of them sharing a space. But how many spaces?
According to the presentation from last Tuesday, there are 16,270 rentals units in the city and according to the City’s annual report garbage is collected from 14,000 household. And if we do the math, this makes for a theoretical total of 30,270 housing units in the city. Things then get confusing when BC stats reports an estimated 42,937 private households in the city and annual report statistics that claim 30,863 Property tax payers and 27,500 Households.
Furthermore, according to the City’s Housing page:
Housing affordability is an issue for many Victorians with lower income. There are 41,705 households in Victoria, of which 60% (24,820) are renters. This is almost twice the regional average. Almost half (46%) of all renters spend more than 30% of their pre-tax income on shelter. According the Statistics Canada, anyone spending this much on shelter, faces housing affordability challenges. Housing affordability and homelessness are two top strategic priorities for the City of Victoria.
As context to this however, only the 2013 Housing report is available which is to say we still don’t yet have a reliable (in the sense that it can be shared everywhere due to it being in one stand alone document) recent picture of housing trends in the City.
Why is it so hard to agree on housing units in the City??
Shouldn’t it have been the job of the task force to at least do that?
Specific to rental housing, I was only able to derive additional context on just what information was provided to task force members after noticing not all materials referenced by the HATF were provided in meeting agendas (see filepro) and requesting that staff provide these materials right away. Upon doing so I got access to a short presentation on Rental Housing in Victoria BC which suggests that we have a total of 36,450 residents living in 16,270 rental suites (which is different from the city numbers above btw).
With respect to population projections relative to total future projected housing need, the population of Victoria grew 2.5% from the 2006-2011 census (e..g, from 78,057- 80,017). Whether or not we will add the additional expect 20,000 people by 2041 will really depend on the results of the 2016 census to show how much we’ve grown since 2011 I’d say.
Finally, a whole other variable to add to the housing affordability task force mix is that of the sharing economy. As noted in my July 9 Twitter exchange with lead Councillor Loveday mind you, it would seem the issue of Air BnB was not contemplated by the task force:
Mind you I suppose it is good that Councillor Loveday is aware of things now. Perhaps he can fundamentally redraw the work of the task force and rejigger relevant recommendations in advance of the 16th when these recommendations are presented to GPC? Given the recent report out of Vancouver that has fingered AirBnB as a major contributor to housing unaffordability, it would be good for the City to have a handle on the impact on local affordability of things like AirB&B here in Victoria with it’s 1,000+ listings.
But then again, Mayor Helps is a big fan of things like AirBnB so.
From a process perspective, I found it really curious how the Task Force only confirmed housing targets on their final meeting day. I later discovered when looking through meeting minutes, that housing targets were actually made available to the HATF back on May 26th as part of their working document (see minutes):
However, Mayor Helps asked that they be removed in advance of the June 1 Workshop which, as noted in my summary of the event was an odd affair in how it balanced excitement with how something was being done, and confusion with just what was being proposed.
Had targets been available, things would have made more sense.
So what does this matter?
It matters because I’m trying to understand what actual scale of need are we dealing with? How many working poor and seniors are there in the city of Victoria who need assistance with housing? Who all out there is currently working to provide and promote affordable housing? Is the City wanting to work with these folks or compete?
In an effort to find clarity, I looked at the Affordable Housing related items that are found across two objectives in Council’s 2015-18 Strategic plan and I put relevant Action and Outcomes into a logical table (see below). And in doing so, I became perplexed because forming an Housing Task Force (shown in yellow) is just one of many 2015 intended actions aspired to by Mayor Helps and her Council.
I then got all caught up trying to think about how these 2015 actions are supposed to connect back in with the recommendations that were put forward and then amended by the HATF for 2016-18 let alone figure out how they fit with the Housing Action Plan that was recently approved by Council (see my detailed summary here). The one things I did discover is that the strategic plan and task force are for assisted but not supportive housing such as is required by those sleeping in the parks (e.g., the housing action plan).
Related to this, Mayor Helps also emphasized how the targets set (presumably the ones shown in the City slide above) will not include social housing and I’m assuming that social housing is quartile 1 with residents in that category presumably earning less than minimum wage?
But I’m not sure, I do know thought that anticipated housing needs identified for this income quartile of 5,600 units (see in original coloured slide above) are significantly larger than the numbers identified by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. Fun fact about this coalition is that they were created in response to a previous task force by a former City of Victoria Mayor. This was their rep’s response to participating in the most recent task force:
So who else is involved in affordable housing in the city? I learned recently about the Capital Regional Housing Corporation and how they provide more than 1,200 units of subsidized and affordable housing in the region and I also recently discovered the Greater Victoria Housing Society with their nearly 800 units explicitly for families and seniors. There is of course also BC Housing with their large role as well. And yes, I did observe how each of these groups was represented on Mayor Helps’s task force as members at large.
But to What End?
Mayor Helps ended the meeting last Tuesday by inviting all task force members to attend the 9am July 16th meeting of Council (she meant GPC) where the recommendations will be presented (Early Thoughts coming soon). As part of this presentation, Helps said that she’ll be telling Council that she doesn’t want them to “pick and choose” desirable recommendations because the whole suite of recommendations is needed to make a “bold dent” in the issue of housing affordability.
Related to this, everyone agreed that they needed to advocate for changing the “affordable housing story” so that more residents are happy to have “affordable housing” in their communities.
It’ll be interesting to see what story they decide on!
Let us wait for the perfect storm to begin.
I am just hoping that Councillor Lucas will stick to her practical guns and demand than someone, anyone, finally give her answers to the questions she asked of who does what for housing and how much do they spend (See June 4th GPC summary). She wasn’t given any answers or even much encouragement. Will she have the energy on Thursday to try again?
Even if she does, will it really matter given that the Mayor is seeking endorsement on Thursday and endorsement will have wide reaching and ranging implications. We shall have to see.
Other Things to Note
My final note is to ask, why weren’t any of these meetings recorded? Why weren’t they held in the Council chambers so that the web-casting system could be utilized? Why were they held in the Songhees room instead? Here is a picture of the Songhees room:
In chatting with one of the city’s 2 video guys the other day I got a partial answer to my question of why no web-casting. It seems that the video guys only work on Thursdays when meetings occur. Which is to say, web-casting on other days than Thursday isn’t an easy option because of the way in which the City employs their camera guys who also seem to manage multiple other jobs to pay their rent and have their own affordable housing.
For additional context on this task force, I noticed in looking through my own blog that I have already written about the public workshop that was held on June 1 (article here) and on the recommendations that were put out for public input. (summary here).