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8,500-units of new rentals since mid-2010s shows Greater Victoria can act big on housing, but it’s still not enough

Greater Victoria's supply of single-family-homes along main thoroughfares are poised for redevelopment scenarios favouring high density housing, as the region grapples with strong demand for homes and high population growth projections through 2041. Seen here is the 'pagoda house' along Langford's Goldstream Avenue.  Citified.ca

8,500-units of new rentals since mid-2010s shows Greater Victoria can act big on housing, but it’s still not enough
Mike Kozakowski, Citified.ca
Greater Victoria will head into 2023 with around 6,000-units of rental housing under construction, according to Citified’s real-time construction data, including over 700-units of dormitory-style suites coming to the University of Victoria and approximately 800-units expected to break ground in December.
 
 
The Capital’s historic pace of new home building that began in the mid-2010s has thus far delivered over 8,500-units of purpose-built rental inventory across the entire housing spectrum, ranging from luxury residences, to workforce housing and affordable homes, including units deemed as shelter-rate for individuals on government assistance.
 
Victoria’s supply of new apartments, which picked up steam eight-years-ago after a prolonged dearth dating back to the 1980s, has chased a growing population on the south Island that saw 344,615 inhabitants in 2011 balloon to 397,237 a decade later, well ahead of projections that anticipated two-thirds of that tally.
 
Despite so much new housing, the vacancy rate remained near zero percent as new units met with newcomers, and existing pressures rolled over from year to year despite Citified’s data showing an additional 5,200 condominiums also completing over the same period and absorbing pressure from the rental market.

With 6,000-units on-track for delivery between 2023 and 2026, not including additional project starts next year, the region stands to benefit significantly from the upcoming infusion of rental homes, although housing advocates say many thousands more are needed to alleviate perennial housing pressures fuelled by strong in-migration and to replace aging inventory nearing its end-of-life.
 
Rental activity in Victoria's core.
Citified's map of currently underway rental projects throughout the urban core of the Capital Region. Region-wide, from Sooke to Sidney, approximately 6,000-units of rental inventory will be underway heading into 2023.  Citified.ca
 
What’s in-store for 2023 and beyond
Federal population projections suggest that over the next 20 years, Victoria’s census metropolitan area will see an additional 88,000 residents under a high immigration scenario, settling at a population of just below 500,000 people by 2041.
 
To accommodate that growth, Citified has estimated some 44,000-units of housing will be required, based on current residents-per-dwelling figures. And it is likely that this ratio is low.
 
With October’s municipal election results suggesting development exhaustion in multiple municipalities was a top-of-mind issue – including in Langford which for an entire generation was a breadbasket of housing under mayor Stew Young’s three decades of leadership – projected population growth and the south Island’s corresponding housing needs are poised for a political showdown.
 
Via the province, a potential housing solution has been aired by BC’s new premier David Eby involving municipal housing quotas, while rental restrictions and age restrictions in condominiums built prior to 2010 will no longer apply, aside from age limits in 55+ buildings.
 
And in the new year, the province’s real-estate speculation tax regime will expand to cover additional communities on the south Island. Duncan, Lake Cowichan, North Cowichan and Ladysmith will be speculation zones alongside the 13 municipalities of Greater Victoria and Nanaimo, the hope there being taxes for vacation properties will result in property owners turning them over to resident purchasers or placing them on the rental market (which nixes the tax).
 
As BC’s population growth and the province’s new measures present opportunities and challenges for municipalities, the federal government has turned up the heat by announcing an ambitious immigration plan to welcome 460,000 newcomers across the country per year over the next several years, suggesting nothing short of an all-hands-on-deck approach to housing will be necessary.
 
In other words, provincial plans, and the responses to those plans by municipalities, will not only be required to manage in-migration and natural population growth in communities like Victoria that have historically been buffered from high levels of immigration, but will now be required to address the potential for tens of thousands of new Canadians choosing to settle on the south Island.
 
Potential changes to southern Vancouver Island’s municipal status quo
What is clear for the new year as fresh councils become familiar with municipal governance and set agendas through 2026, that ideas and constructs of the past, like urban containment boundaries, agricultural land reserves and official community plans pursuing low density or semi-rural built forms in observance of long-ago established visions, could be in flux for the first time in generations. If Greater Victoria is projected to grow from nearly 400,000 people in 2021 to around 500,000 by 2041, significant changes to the way the region builds, and on what lands that building occurs, can be reasonably anticipated.
 
Put another way, as densification continues in urban neighbourhoods of Victoria-proper, Saanich and Esquimalt, higher growth suburban communities voting most recently to temper the pace of change may ultimately force the issue of housing onto lower density and semi-rural communities like Metchosin, Highlands, Oak Bay and North Saanich, which have a track record of pushing back against development.
 
And as currently fast-growing municipalities wish to ease their growth aspirations, how emerging demand on housing will be handled, and where it will be handled, will certainly make for interesting viewing. C
 
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