CBC Radio Interview: Should governments respond to rising housing prices?

Listen to this CBC Radio Interview with Gregor Craigie from May 16, 2016, on rising prices for residential real estate in the City of Victoria:

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Despite doubts, Victoria’s $50 million homeless plan clears hurdle

By Katherine Dedyna, Times Colonist, September 18, 2015

Victoria councillors voted 8-1 to push ahead with a request for $50 million to “substantially reduce” homelessness in the capital region.

An amended proposal, which adds the Greater Victoria Coalition Against Homelessness as a partner, will be discussed by council again in early October.

“I’m thrilled to see the leadership that council took today by moving this proposal forward,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.

“It got much better through amendments and our discussion.”

Amendments to bring on the coalition and stakeholders such as housing and social-services providers and homeless people will make the motion much stronger, said Coun. Jeremy Loveday.

He said he’s getting “overwhelmingly positive” feedback for the idea of a 15-year, region-wide annual levy of $11.18 per household that would pay for construction of 367 units of housing for homeless people. Helps earlier referred to that number as effectively ending homelessness in Greater Victoria by 2018.

The Victoria council motion is expected to go to the Capital Regional Hospital District Board on Oct. 14 in light of the large health-care costs incurred by homeless people.

Coun. Ben Isitt said the amendments keep “the emphasis on the obligation of senior levels of governments to act” along with ongoing input from social-service agencies. “We will now be working hard to reach out to colleagues and residents in all 13 municipalities and three electoral areas, with a view toward consolidating regional support for action at the hospital board meeting.”

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Victoria mayor, councillors want $50M to end homelessness

CBC News On the Island, Sept. 16, 2015

A contribution of roughly $11 per household, for 15 years.

That is all it could take to eliminate homelessness in Victoria and the surrounding region, says Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and two city councillors.

Helps and councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday have submitted a motion to council suggesting the Capital Regional District borrow $50 million to build 367 housing units for the chronically homeless.

The number of proposed units is an estimate from the city's partner agencies of the amount of housing that is required.

The motion, which is to be debated by Victoria councillors on Thursday, Sept. 17, states that it would cost about $2 million a year to finance the borrowing, paid over 15 years through an annual levy of $11.18 per household in the CRD.

"I hope every resident...can really get behind this proposal because I think we have a plan that can really tackle this issue that has been holding our region back for some time," said Isitt.

The motion states the strategy's goal is to eliminate visible homelessness within the Capital Region by 2018.

Provincial, federal contributions

Isitt said the other municipalities and electoral districts in the CRD will be approached if the plan is first approved by Victoria city council.

The motion also proposes that Mayor Helps writes to the Prime Minister of Canada after the upcoming election to request a federal commitment toward the cost of the housing units — which could reduce or eliminate the need for a regional contribution.

Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt says he hopes people will support the city's new plan to address homelessness.

The plan also asks the province to commit to funding the housing units' annual operating costs.

"For many on the street there are a lot of issues that they grapple with, so a simple apartment isn't' really sufficient," Isitt said.

"You need staff available to provide what we call housing with supports, so that would be the request to the province."

The city of Victoria has made numerous efforts to tackle the issue of homelessness in the region.

Earlier this year council considered setting up a permanent tent city in Topaz Park, which was met with stiff criticism.

Isitt said this project is feasible — even if it comes at a time when the city is involved in other large-scale projects, such as the new Johnson Street bridge and a potential sewage treatment plant.

"It sounds like a big sum of money, but if we're going to make those investments in our physical infrastructure, I think surely we can make them in our social infrastructure," Isitt said.

Advocacy group supports plan

Isitt's proposal is similar to a plan released earlier this year by the Coalition to End Homelessness.

Though the coalition's plan didn't include funding from the CRD, its head, Andrew Wynn-Williams says he supports the city's aggressive plan to ask for funding from all three levels of government.

"The city is saying, 'You know what? We don't want to wait'. In one way that will really put pressure on those two senior levels of government to step up to the plate."

Listen to the full interview with councillor Ben Isitt listen and Andrew Wynn-Williams here.

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CBC Radio Interview: For a Regional Housing First Strategy

Listen to this interview on CBC Radio On the Island from September 15, 2015, where Ben discusses the proposed Regional Housing First Strategy, aimed at eliminating homelessness in the Capital Region through a regional social housing program at a cost of $11 per household per year.

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Victoria mayor wants CRD to borrow $50 million to house homeless

By Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist, September 15, 2015

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and at least two of her councillors want the Capital Regional District to borrow $50 million to build 367 supportive housing units for the chronically homeless — a move they believe would effectively end homelessness in Greater Victoria by 2018.

It would cost about $2.08 million a year to service the debt, which could be paid through an annual levy of about $11.18 per household in the CRD, the three say in a resolution to be debated by Victoria councillors on Thursday.

The initiative being put forward by Helps, along with councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday, is a response to the message Helps received this summer when council proposed putting a temporary tent city in Topaz Park to address the issue of people tenting in city parks.

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Victoria donating $2,500 to Hamilton's Canada Post appeal


By Samantha Craggs, CBC News, September 8, 2015

At least two municipalities are donating to Hamilton's court challenge against Canada Post.

City councillors in Victoria, B.C. voted last week to donate $2,500 to the cause, which will see Hamilton fight for the ability to dictate where the corporation puts community mailboxes.

The town council of Baie-D'Urfé, a Quebec municipality of 3,850 people, has also voted to send $750.

The donations stem from 95 letters sent out in July, when Mayor Fred Eisenberger asked for help with the court appeal. The appeal will cost an estimated $75,000.

Hamilton is fighting to uphold a bylaw it passed early this year that would see it dictate where Canada Post puts the mailboxes as it phases out urban door-to-door delivery. Canada Post says its federal mandate trumps municipal laws.

The issue isn't the elimination of the service, city officials say, but a municipality's ability to control its own right of ways. On those grounds, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities will seek intervenor status.

No cities stepping up to help fund Hamilton's Canada Post appeal

The city is appealing after local Superior Court Justice Alan Whitten sided with Canada Post this year.

The decision to appeal has been far from unanimous. City council voted 10-5 to pursue the matter in July.

It wasn't unanimous at last week's Victoria council committee either. The vote was 8-1. It must be ratified by city council, but that's the same group, said Coun. Ben Isitt of Victoria. So the donation is nearly certain.

"It's a reasonable allocation to support Hamilton's legal fees," Isitt told CC Hamilton.

"Hamilton is doing some heavy lifting on behalf of all municipalities and residents in the country that are going to be affected by this."

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Victoria delivers $2,500 to Hamilton in mail wrangle

By Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist, Sept. 5, 2015

Victoria will give $2,500 to Hamilton to help in its legal fight with Canada Post over the location of community mailboxes.

Councillors agreed to a one-time $2,500 grant on Thursday.

Only Coun. Geoff Young was opposed.

“We’re a small municipality, but I personally believe our residents would find that a contribution of this magnitude is supportable,” said Coun. Ben Isitt.

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Living on boats to be a thing of the past in Victoria's Gorge

By CBC All Points West, August 30, 2015

The sight of live-aboard boats anchoring on the Gorge Waterway in Victoria could soon be a thing of the past.

Council passed a bylaw banning overnight anchoring in the Gorge last year, and by the end of October, people living in boats could be told to raise anchor and leave.

"We're going to proceed with something of a soft touch, to through negotiations, convince the handful of people who are relying on overnight moorage to find alternate accommodations," said Councilor Ben Isitt.

Council was mostly concerned about environmental impacts from the boats after hearing complaints that some of the people living on the dozen or so boats — some of which have been described as derelict — were dumping sewage and garbage into the ocean near a sensitive ecological habitat.

Different from Vancouver

The City has been waiting on a license of occupation from the province which would allow them to enforce bylaws in the waterway. That license should be issued within weeks and be in effect by October.

The bylaw bans overnight sleeping on boats in the Gorge, and Isitt was the one councilor who voted against that approach.

"There's a social justice issue of people who don't have alternate accommodations, and then also the recreational or even issues related to the common law right of mariners," he said.

Isitt says the right to anchor is a well-established legal right associated with the right to navigation. Victoria's bylaw bans anchoring between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., and Isitt called that "unreasonable."

Isitt says he favours regulations like those in Vancouver's False Creek, which allow boaters to stay anchored for up to 14 days each month.

Nowhere else to go?

Issues surrounding homelessness have bubbled to the surface recently in Victoria after the city seemed to back away from a proposed homeless tent city in a park after opposition from local residents.

Isitt says he doesn't believe the ban on live-aboard boating would add to the problem too much, as he expects there may only be three to six people living on the boats who can't find another place to live. He said city staff would work with them one on one.

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Municipalities pursue speed-limit controls

By Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist, August 25, 2015

The province’s move last year to boost the speed limits on certain highways isn’t sitting well with some local government officials who want the authority to put on the brakes.

The Central Okanagan Regional District has a resolution to the Union of B.C. Municipalities calling on the province “to formalize a process to allow for the lowering of the speed limit on certain highways that pass through rural communities and neighbourhoods” if a regional district passes a resolution calling for it.

Last year, Transportation Minister Todd Stone increased speed limits on 1,300 kilometres of rural highways, despite opposition from some police associations and even within his own government.

The speed limit was increased to 120 km/h from 110 km/h on multi-lane divided highways, including the Coquihalla and Highway 19 between Parksville and Campbell River. The limits on most other affected highways jumped by 10 km/h.

The resolution will be debated at the annual UBCM convention next month and has been endorsed by the Southern Interior Local Government Association. The UBCM resolutions committee is also recommending it be endorsed.

The resolution will get the support of Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt who, along with former Victoria councillor Shellie Gudgeon tried in 2013 to get the UBCM to support making the default speed limit in urban areas 40 km/h.

“I definitely support local governments in their attempts to make communities safer, including through reduced speed limits,” Isitt said.

“I think local governments should have the authority to determine the safe speed of travel within their borders.”

Gudgeon and Isitt’s motion failed to get support at the 2013 convention. Victoria council then turned around and lowered the speed limit on a number of city streets.

Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman isn’t surprised at the latest resolution.

“I think the way it should be presented is: ‘Some of you may not want to do this in your communities but we want the right to do it in ours,’ ” Coleman said.

If passed, it’s uncertain whether the motion being put forward by Central Okanagan will carry much weight.

The UBCM resolutions committee notes that local officials earlier passed resolutions asking the province to abide by local government requests to reduce speed limits from 50 km/h to 30 km/h in downtown areas and asking the province to authorize local governments to regulate speed, pedestrian crossings and installation of signs on arterial roads within municipal boundaries.

The province has said it wants to provide “a consistent application of speed zones” throughout the province, while considering factors such as “highway malignment, design, adjacent land use [and] pedestrian movements,” the resolutions committee notes.

“The province expressed doubt that local government would be able to ‘maintain consistent driver expectation of speed limits across the highway system’ and for this reason it would ‘retain the sole authority of setting speed limits and pedestrian crossings.’ ”

Isitt noted there’s already variation in speed limits in different communities.

“We’re not driving 120 from Victoria up through Port Hardy on the Island,” Isitt said.

He said many traffic engineers have been late to the party when it comes to using “a complete street lens” to design communities that meet the aspirations of seniors and children and people on bikes.

“So it’s not surprising that the province has been dragging its heels, but I think these kinds of efforts from local governments reflect the aspirations of the people who live in those communities.”

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Grace Islet restoration begins

By Sean McIntyre, Gulf Islands Driftwood, August 12, 2015

The clatter and clang from Grace Islet resounded over Ganges Harbour Monday morning as workers began to dismantle the ruins of a half-built luxury home on the sacred First Nations burial site.

“That’s music to my ears,” said Ben Isitt, a Victoria city councillor who participated in the 2014 campaign to stop the home’s construction.

Isitt was among a crowd of Salt Springers, First Nations representatives and media who gathered in Centennial Park Monday to mark the start of deconstruction.

The sound of workers disassembling the partially built home comes nearly eight months after the provincial government announced a plan to buy the islet for nearly $5.5 million. The property was transferred to the Nature Conservancy of Canada in February.

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