Saanich is up to the task of building more homes quickly

November 9, 2023

District of Saanich Op/Ed
By Dean Murdock, Mayor of Saanich

Everyone in Saanich deserves a home that meets their needs, at a price they can afford. Buying or renting a home shouldn’t be a source of severe stress, because that’s the exact opposite of what a home is intended to provide. A home should bring a sense of security and comfort. It should be a place for people to grow a family, make memories, and become a part of a community.

This is why Saanich is working hard to increase housing choice in a thoughtful way. It’s important that we consider how we are going to create more homes that accommodate a range of needs and suit individuals, families, young people, newcomers, older adults and those living with disabilities at all stages of their lives.

We’re committed to doing this, and to meeting the ambitious housing targets mandated by the provincial government. Under the Province’s directive, we need to triple the volume of permits over the next five years to 4,610 units, but the actual need is even greater. While this presents a big challenge, Saanich is up for it.

There are many things we can’t control in this process — like interest rates, inflation, labour shortages and the cost of materials. But over the past many months, we’ve been working hard on the issues we can control, and on systemic changes that will be in place for the future.

Our Centre, Corridor and Village planning envisions complete communities supporting employment, shops, services, recreation, and public spaces that are within walking distance for people. Growth will be planned along corridors to link centres and villages with each other, and with regional destinations. This will require a robust regional transit service and active transportation network.

But how do we turn that vision into actual homes? How do we turn policy into occupancy permits, and actually get people into these new homes?

First, we’re exploring improvements to the development process, with the goal of making it faster. We know that the longer this process takes, the more costly and risky it becomes — and we’re working to reduce that risk.

We also want to attract and support affordable non-market housing. We’re working on removing the requirement for non-market providers to go through the re-zoning process and helping our affordable housing partners to invest in Saanich. We need housing for people across the income spectrum, and particularly for those on the lower end of that spectrum.

As we do community planning work, we are trying to identify more available land for housing initiatives. We’re also working on pre-zoning for Uptown and non-market housing to reduce the cost and time for redevelopment. And we’re looking to pre-zone within other Primary Growth Areas to reduce barriers to putting density where we want it to go, to build vibrant, sustainable centres.

We’re also underway on a Neighbourhood Homes Study that is looking at changes to integrate infill housing in single-detached areas. This is often referred to as ‘missing middle’ housing and includes duplexes, townhouses, houseplexes, and small apartments that can be well-integrated into existing neighbourhoods. Zoning changes will help reduce barriers to these types of developments, and we will be intentional about where we create new hubs and villages within these neighbourhoods.

While there are indeed visible signs of construction and growth in our community, there is also a lot going on behind the scenes to support this significant task before us.

I recognize this isn’t just a big challenge for the District — it’s a serious undertaking for our entire community. Change is happening quickly and that creates some discomfort for folks. That is totally understandable.

Saanich has always been a highly desirable place for people to build a life. Let’s ensure our neighbourhoods are places where more people — including our kids and grandkids — can find a home that meets their needs. A home that’s close to schools, parks and shops, where they can put down roots and contribute to our great community.

It’s a dream that shouldn’t be so elusive for so many people.