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The District of Saanich is looking for ways to build more housing — and make it affordable

Rental housing under construction on Shelbourne Street in Saanich, B.C. The District of Saanich is working to get more housing built.  (Kathryn Marlow/CBC - image credit)
Rental housing under construction on Shelbourne Street in Saanich, B.C. The District of Saanich is working to get more housing built. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC - image credit)

The mayor of Saanich wants the municipality to be more affordable — so he and council are looking at ways to get more housing built, both market and non-market.

"Our goal is to ensure that we are creating more homes for more people, more quickly," said Dean Murdock.

Saanich is the most populous municipality in the Capital Regional District on south Vancouver Island. According to the 2021 census, 117,735 people live in Saanich, compared to 91,867 in neighbouring Victoria.

A recent progress report on the district's housing strategy shows there is still a shortage of housing, with only 182 net new units of housing approved in 2022, while the projected need was 610.

District of Saanich
District of Saanich

It also shows that while average home sale prices have gone up by 145 to 191 per cent (for townhouses, condos, and single family homes), and median rent has gone up by 79 to 96 per cent, median household income has only gone up by 56 per cent.

That data covers 2005 to 2022, and comes from the Victoria Real Estate Board, Statistics Canada, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Non-market solutions 

Murdock said the district is "actively pursuing" a plan to offer municipal land to non-profit housing providers, where they could build non-market affordable housing.

"I think that by offering up the land, it's taking out one of the major prohibitive costs factors that would make it more attractive for us to be able to move forward," said Murdock.

He cited the Nellie McClung branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library as one such site.

Kathryn Marlow/CBC
Kathryn Marlow/CBC

It's across the street from one grocery store, one block over from a school, and just blocks away from a shopping village.

Murdock said a new building could house the library on the main floor, and affordable housing units above.

The district hopes to attract the attention of the province, which is making investments in housing by offering land for such projects.

The mayor said council is also working on changes to the official community plan, which would allow non-market housing projects to be built with simple staff approval — and not a drawn-out process involving mayor and council sign-off, and public hearings.

Zoning changes 

While Saanich isn't exploring a full rezoning like Victoria's missing middle initiative — which now allows for houseplexes, of specific sizes, to be built anywhere a single-family home can be built — Murdock said a study is currently underway to identify neighbourhoods where such rezoning could happen.

Murdock said such changes will be restricted to urban sections of the district and not its more rural and agriculture-based zones.

Acknowledging a housing crisis 

Diana Gibson, executive director of the Community Social Planning Council, is glad to see Saanich is looking at the data on what kind of housing is needed, and for which income type.

Her organization researches solutions for social problems in Greater Victoria, including housing.

She said there is more widespread acknowledgement now that there is a housing crisis, but it still doesn't seem like people are in crisis mode.

"All levels of government should be stepping in for every single decision that's being made to say, is this going to facilitate the fastest distance to affordable housing possible right now?"

Gibson said local governments now have the ability to take the lead on non-profit housing projects — something she'd like to see Saanich, and others, do.