The high cost of housing is top of mind for a lot of people, and there is an expectation that governments can do something about it, …and fast!
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet cure-all that could return us to a time when housing could be purchased and lived in with only one working partner in the work world.
The world has changed radically and the thinking around finding solutions will also have to be radical.
The newly-activated Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) contract with the Cowichan Housing Association to lead regional efforts aimed at taming the affordability crisis may be seen as a step in the right direction but carries the risk of being a bureaucratic analysis group that files reports but builds nothing.
Any number of political philosophies converge on this issue. Some want the market freed up to build what the community needs; these are the supply folks. Others want governments to directly intervene to underwrite and subsidize social housing targeted at specific under-served groups of people.
Other political forces are deeply resistant to any further growth in Cowichan. In fact, some want to impose even greater restrictions on the number and location of new housing options.
Meanwhile, the CVRD has just completed a landmark study that forecasted population growth in the region, along with what will be required in terms of economic development to provide well-paying jobs for these new residents, many of whom will be future generations of existing families in the area.
At the same time the CVRD completed an inventory of industrial zoned land in the regional district, which revealed that not very much is available for future growth when the nature of the zoned land is taken into account.
These parallel studies acknowledge growth will take place and that local government policies should reflect the need for more housing with new and desirable economic development. But, will local politicians actually rise to the occasion?
Housing is not something local governments are directly responsible for, but they do control land use policies, densities, building height, lot size and placement of innovative residences such as tiny homes. All of this impacts housing supply and costs but, more often than not, local governments resist measures that reduce the cost of housing. Some would argue that out-of-date planning philosophies and status quo protection have dramatically increased the cost of housing over that last couple of decades.
We at the Cowichan Post argue for urgent and innovative action to dramatically increase the supply of market housing. Tiny homes spread throughout the community, grouped together on serviced single family lots do offer a realistic option for many people. There are other innovative ideas out there that can be acted on immediately
Yes, there are segments of our population that have been left behind in terms of housing affordability. Local government can help by taking leadership and forming partnerships with other levels of government and the private sector to provide targeted housing options.
If local politicians are actually serious about taming the affordability issue they must act promptly, not through some several-years-long Official Community Plan exercise. We have some of the answers now, but they must be prepared to step aside from the severely restrictive measures that populate most official community plans and zoning bylaws.