At the recent Union of B.C Municipalities conference in Victoria, I was gratified to see four of five resolutions submitted by Saanich council receive the overwhelming support of the mayors and councillors from across B.C.
These will now be sent as UBCM recommendations to our provincial and federal counterparts. The fifth one timed out on the floor and was returned to the UBCM executive for further review.
As well, the UBCM accepted my request for two panel sessions for conversations with industry leaders on the arrival of the new app-enabled, global shared economy.
While addressing the needs of Saanich residents, the resolutions were significant to issues across B.C. and Canada. As a result, the UBCM adopted resolutions from Saanich councillors on abandoned or derelict boats, the crisis of marketplace housing supply and costs, the need to enable our seniors to better age in place and the need to improve energy efficiency in older homes.
They also enthusiastically supported a special resolution requesting the province work to find solutions to the crisis in student housing across B.C.
This is the first time student housing has been brought before the UBCM. Locally, about 38,000 students attend the University of Victoria and Camosun College. UVic has about 2,700 units of student accommodation. Camosun has none. As a result, about 35,300 students require housing in our region. This affects our entire rental market. Some local students can reside at home, the majority cannot. The arrival of Airbnb has caused additional constraints.
One of the two panel sessions was on short-term rental platforms, such as Airbnb. The other was on the new ride-sourcing technologies, such as Uber.
The panels recognized two aspects: first, the clear benefits of technology for improved customer service and economic efficiencies; second, the concerns about global industrial business capabilities entering the streets of municipalities. In altering the economic balance of our communities, will these multinationals gobble up jobs and housing? How do we help ensure the benefits arrive, and avoid the negatives?
Our successful resolution on derelict vessels requested that the federal and provincial governments proceed with an “abandoned and derelict vessel program” plus establish an “end of life” disposal system. These would be funded through fees from vessel purchase, registration, insurance and moorage.
On housing, our resolution on home-renovation tax credits for costs over $1,000 urged our senior governments to create new tax-credit programs that would encourage home renovations that improve mobility and aging in place for seniors, as well as the energy efficiency of older houses.
A second resolution asks senior governments to study the effect on housing costs when energy-efficiency and safety building codes for larger homes are automatically applied to homes under 2,000 square feet. While those measures might make sense for the larger structures, the benefits for smaller houses appear to be very small, yet add significantly to the cost. This subsequently affects the issue of housing affordability. Those extra costs need to be understood and justified.
Unfortunately, time ran out to address our resolution to reduce the impacts on housing affordability by lowering the property-transfer tax on new and existing homes. This now goes to the UBCM executive for review. However, this was approved at the annual meeting of Association of Vancouver Island Costal Communities in April. At AVICC, it was amended to have the tax lowered on homes under $1 million. It is hoped the UBCM executive will recommend similarly.
As a rookie councillor, I have learned these policy processes take time. For example, these three resolutions on housing costs from Saanich were moved at council in early 2015. They were then supported at the Capital Regional District in August 2015. Consequently, these past 22 months, I have come to appreciate that the processes and politics to deliver successful local government legislation take consultation and patience.
A disappointment at the UBCM convention was the loss by a close margin of support for the resolution from Highlands to use the deposits from unredeemed container bottles to help protect green space and our natural environment.
Nicknamed “Pop for Parks,” it recommended the $10 million to $15 million per year in unredeemed deposits, over and above the cost of the recycling program, be applied to parks. Unfortunately, we were unable to build the case with our delegate colleagues.
The motto for the 2016 UBCM convention was “Stronger Together.” Clearly, when we work together, as a region, building support across the province for solutions that address the needs of our resident, we achieve success. I feel privileged to be a part of helping to deliver this.
Fred Haynes is a Saanich councillor.
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