Homefinder: Housing market shows rentals are needed

Secondary suites are in demand for Saanich and Greater Victoria

Herons Landing and The Ardea at 3185 Tillicum Rd. are the first apartment buildings erected in Saanich in more than 25 years.

Herons Landing and The Ardea at 3185 Tillicum Rd. are the first apartment buildings erected in Saanich in more than 25 years.

After a recent spike in the vacancy rate for rental suites in Greater Victoria, the number of available suites has shrunk to what it was five years ago.

The most recent of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s twice-annual vacancy reports came out in April, with Greater Victoria seeing vacancies of 1.7 per cent for bachelor suites, 2.7 for one-bedroom and 2.8 for two-bedroom suites.

But those numbers could be off a little bit, said CEO Dave Hutniak of Landlord B.C. Historically, CMHC doesn’t include condos, townhouses or secondary suites in the report, which can understate the true vacancy rate in Victoria.

“It’s a huge drop in rental vacancies, when you [approach] one per cent, technically it becomes zero vacancies [based on what’s actually out there],” Hutniak said. “I’m not saying the rental market hasn’t tightened up [in Greater Victoria], it has.”

What the drop in vacancy rates really says is that the Capital Region is once again desperately in need of supply.

“[It comes back to] a need for increased supply in purpose-built rentals [whether it’s Victoria or Saanich],” Hutniak said.

District of Saanich planning staff are cognizant of how crucial Saanich’s (unofficial estimate of) 10,000 secondary suites are to housing in the region.

But the big push is for density, not sprawl. Saanich had its first purpose-built rental show up last year, the two building development of Herons Landing and the Ardea, at the corner of Burnside and Tillicum.

The waitlist to get into those buildings is currently into September. Purpose-built rental buildings were so out of favour, the Herons Landing and Ardea development was the first time in 25 years that Saanich council was able to approve an apartment designated for rental housing.

It’s a problem Saanich Coun. Fred Haynes is eager to address.

“We have other [developers] now looking at the [purpose-built rental] market, [it’s] encouraging,” said Haynes, who is vice-chair on the Regional Housing Trust Fund.

“Certainly there are some things we can do, whether it’s allowing buildings of certain types [such as the recent move to allow wooden structures up to six storeys]. Given this, I believe it is the ‘range of housing’ options we all need to think more about, including opportunities to retain and to add to our rental housing stock including private, non-profit and co-operative rental housing.”

Saanich’s 2008 official community plan recognizes the municipality’s ability to attract and retain young families and the necessary workforce, but true action has yet to be taken beyond private developments, which are also a necessary area of growth.

“We’d like to see more affordable rental housing. To get it, we need collaboration from government,” Hutniak said.

Otherwise, potential rental developments are competing with (condo) developers for the same land, Hutniak added.

Hutniak is part of Victoria’s Housing Affordability Task Force, which is bringing a draft of recommendations to council on July 16. Among the suggestions are the contribution of city land at no cost, to enable affordable housing development.

While there is a small, interest rate-driven uptick in purpose-built rentals in B.C., more measures are needed, Hutniak said.

“It’s more than we’ve had for 25 years, let’s get shovels in the ground to build additional supply.”





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