A day after Oak Bay and other municipalities found themselves on the province’s so-called naughty list for not building enough housing, Oak Bay’s mayor is already putting up a fight, saying with full certainty that Oak Bay won’t be able to meet the housing targets the province has set out for them.
“We recognize that we need to build these housing units. Our challenge is how do we get to that number in that time frame? It’s going to be a significant challenge,” said Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch on Wednesday.
Over the next five years, Oak Bay has been told it needs to build 664 new units, or else.
“Everyone has to be part of the housing solution. I don’t expect that to be a challenge. But the legislation does give us the ability to step in if needed,” said B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon in a press conference Tuesday.
“We don’t have a lot of publicly owned land and we don’t have a lot of big projects that are in the queue right now,” said Murdoch.
Oak Bay’s mayor says he recognizes there’s an urgent need for housing but wants the province’s help now, not six months from now when they’ve promised to check in.
“We’re just saying we know we’re going to have a strong challenge upfront, so come and help us now,” said Murdoch.
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Housing advocates in Greater Victoria say Oak Bay’s response shows a lack of political willpower.
“Mansions are auto-approved every day in Oak Bay,” said Robert Berry with group Housing For Living. “There’s no reason that couldn’t be a row of apartments.”
“Oak Bay, in under 10 pages, could write a policy saying you’re allowed to build townhouses in Oak Bay, and they could quite easily hit their housing target numbers. The fact is the mayor… faces a lot of pressure from homeowners that are quite wealthy in Oak Bay not to ruin their neighborhood character,” he said.
Berry says the reason why Oak Bay doesn’t have any big developments in its queue is because developers aren’t incentivized.
Take the fierce opposition in 2019 to the Oak Bay United Church’s attempt to convert their parking lot into roughly 100 units of rental apartments 250 metres from Oak Bay Village. They received so much pushback and not enough assurance it would pass at council, the church withdrew its application.
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Housing advocates like Berry say if a non-profit can’t do it in Oak Bay, there’s no hope for developers either.
“Developers are so scared of the policy environment and the voting intentions in Oak Bay that they won’t even ask to build apartments or townhouses in Oak Bay. The mayor and council need to make it clear to developers that if you want to come to Oak Bay and build some multifamily housing we’re going to vote yes, and the paperwork is cleared out of the way,” said Berry.
Meanwhile, the housing crisis in Greater Victoria, and the province, continues. The question is, will Oak Bay step up to the task?