Newsletter January 19, 2022
You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout – We’re telling you why
Part #1 Council’s Planned Secondary Wholesale Suite-Densification,
Note: Although this Newsletter is long, reading it will take far less time than having to listen to the four-hour January 10, 2022 Council Meeting and it provides important information for resident's to consider.
It has been obvious during this Council term, and certainly at the January 10, 2021 Council meeting, that the majority of Council are in favour of District-Wide Suite Densification.
It is difficult to understand why this Council would want to add the consultant’s estimated 1500 multi-resident suites, with no additional tax revenue, to a community that is already struggling to maintain its services, deal with its failing infrastructure and has serious financial problems.
The Facts: We have a number of both legal and unregulated suites now. There have been estimates of how many existing suites there are and the indicators support that the number of suites and renters are fairly substantial. We also have a high proportion of multi-dwellings, many with transition zones to single-family areas. The single-family and multi-dwelling mix is fairly well balanced. The multi-dwellings provide municipal taxes while the suites do not.
This means residents that do not have a suite subsidize whatever the suite population is that live in Oak Bay and pay their rent. However, the suite homeowner is not taxed by the District on this additional income.
The suite taxation shortfall will not change if the zoning changes to allow multi-resident suites. What will change, however, is that there will be more suites and more untaxed tenants. This has been confirmed by the secondary suite consultant and this is the experience in many other municipalities. Like many of those municipalities, and given our dire tax situation (an estimated 12% this year), we certainly cannot afford to subsidize more suites.
In the past few years, Oak Bay Council has shut down 3 multi-resident illegal suites in North Henderson. Now some members of Council want to legalize and allow multi-tenant suites. They are choosing to ignore that the number of illegal suites has grown significantly in other communities when they have adopted multi-tenant suite zoning. Saanich for example had 2000 prior to muti-tenant zoning legalization now they have 9,000.
Victoria Taxpayer Citizen's Advocacy Group: "An analysis revealed that during the past 11 years operating costs in Saanich rose by a whopping 51.6% to $78.4 M, compared to 30.1% to $48.8 M in Victoria. During the same period, inflation increases were pegged at only 17.42 per cent”. However, "In 2020, the tax burden on a representative house was $5,744 in Saanich - Increased services fees in Saanich account for most of the difference".
Worse still these council members seem to be oblivious of the increased: safety issues, taxation burden and the many other harmful impacts. In fact, they have indicated they want as few existing resident-protections as possible. A “more-suites-the-better” zoning change would suit them just fine. It is unacceptable they did not declare their intention to eliminate single family neighbourhoods and state their preference to add more multi-resident , untaxed suites before the last election.
Attempts to stem the tide of illegal suites have been unsuccessful. Other communities continue to struggle with this, and have wasted millions of tax dollars on failed attempts to control the number (details on request)
Nevertheless, despite all this at the January 10, 2022 Council meeting the majority of your Council indicated that they want to change the present informal suite policy, notwithstanding that there is no evidence to show it is causing any problems. They want to replace it with their multi-residemt, untaxed "single family" densification initiative.
As indicated these densification initiatives, if approved, will not increase the tax base and Council and staff have not identified funding sources to pay for the inherent increased service and amenity demands that these will require.
Additionally, if approved, there is the question of how to control the proliferation of suites if the number of suites and associated problems get out of hand - as occurred in Delta and Surrey. The question of the on-going suite registration program and enforcement costs are also big issues - these have not been announced or considered.
An analogy: It would make no sense to provide complimentary tickets and invite a lot of additional audience members to a limited-space event (Oak Bay is built-out) if first, you haven’t ensured that there is the infrastructure (e.g the parking spaces or seating) to accommodate them.
Suite Income Tax Declaration: This has been under the radar and, although mentioned by the Urban Systems' consultant in a cursory fashion, Staff and Council clearly intend not to publicize this important issue. Most people understand that income is taxed, but do suite owners declare their rental income? The Income Tax Act says they must. Is it ethical for Council to pretend that no problem exists by leaving it out of the conversation? Could residents, faced with demands by the Canada Revenue Agency, come back to Council and say you never informed us about this requirement?
Part #2 The Covid Pandemic:
Council intends to accomplish their densification initiatives even though we are not in normal times. There has been and still is, a raging epidemic at large and infections are at record levels. It has been estimated the Covid pandemic could well last for some considerable time. Congestion is a big factor in its spread.
A great deal of staff time has been spent manning the District’s Pandemic Operations Centre to ensure safety conditions are in place. Now Council is proposing to create conditions not recommended by our heath authorities i.e. placing more people in small spaces.
To put things into perspective for Council, people have been requested to keep a safe distance from one another and wear a mask, vaccinated or unvaccinated. Congested communities have by far the most infections: Oak Bay, is a retirement community, and has an exceptional number of senior residents.
Our seniors are the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s deadly and other heath related effects. They are depending on Council to protect them: this “expected-protection-against-the-Pandemic” also applies to all existing residents. An example of what level of safety protection that is considered necessary are the plexiglass barriers found in most establishments.
Last summer it appeared that the Pandemic was less intense and the situation was starting to normalize. The Health Authorities now admit they were caught off-guard for the “infection” surge we are now facing six months later. Perhaps whoever set the timelines to move Council's suite and infill densification initiatives forward just before the 2022 summer months, considered this was their best chance to have them approved.
Council intends to place multiple tenants in a basement and add a shared 240 volt stove, the number one cause of fires in Canada and the US. They have failed to understand that tenants work at different jobs or attend different educational facilities and this increases the exposure to the virus infection.
If long-term care faculties and hospitals in Victoria and elsewhere can’t stop the new virus infection outbreaks, surely multi-tenants in a basement sharing the same ventilation as the primary unit is not a good strategy during a pandemic .
Moving forward at a time of uncertainty, when experience has shown six months is too early to tell if this Pandemic is in remission, is irresponsible to say the least.
Part #3 January 10, 2022 Council Meeting Concerns:
A number of Council members openly admitted that they had no evidence to support their positions on their agenda‘s densification impact proposals, but they went ahead and voted for them anyway. Staff were asked to provide more secondary suite information.
However, this begs the question of why hasn’t this readily available information been provided before this? After all, just after being elected more than three years ago, Council “commenced” the same densifcation/ suite initiative that the voted-out-of-office mayor said he would implement.
Street Parking and Secondary Suite Conditions
Some of the Council and staff comments were:
Street parking: The limited choices provided were to line Oak Bay’s streets with many more cars or turn our streetscapes into a series of parking lots as per other municipalities – see Appendix #1.
Regarding basement resident on-street parking or one additional off-street parking spot, three Councillors stated that their preference was for on-street parking. They reasoned that existing homeowners are not required to park on their property, so why should basement residents be made to park off-street. Their rationale was that, in spite of the obvious problems this will cause, there is plenty of on-street parking available.
This is notwithstanding that all homeowners’ taxes maintain the roads and that a priority suite condition of surveyed residents was off-street tenant parking. Quiet and uncluttered streets are some of the main factors that sets Oak Bay apart from more congested communities whose streets, as Councillor Braithwaite has pointed out, are lined with cars, trucks, boats etc. and Oak Bay’s streets are not.
It is also not clear why these Council members are unaware of the reasons for the 2-hour limit in the neighborhoods adjacent to UVIC, Camosun College, and Oak Bay High. Or for that matter the rationale for so many resident-only parking areas in the District.
As indicated, a number of Council members wanted to remove all barriers to allow more suites. This included the #1 resident condition, owner-occupancy, as well as allowing multi suite-residents plus boarders in the same house. In effect these Council members seem to want to make Oak Bay less desirable and like communities everywhere. This will include their associated densification problems. It also means that these Council members aren’t interested in what the majority of the existing residents who elected them would prefer.
Regarding the street parking issue – in a focus group hosted by the District for developers. Participants identified what made the additioal renter's parking issue so “tricky” as they put it, was a lot of Oak Bay streets are not paved. They noted: therefore the street parking would not be uniform and that this would make basement resident on-street parking and the streetscape even more unattractive than paved streets lined with cars – However, this was a not a consideration at Council.
Enforcement and Registration.
Provincial Secondary Suite Guidelines: “Legalizing existing suites has proven extremely difficult. Most jurisdictions have had limited uptake on voluntary registration and upgrading. Proactive enforcement (on the other hand) is costly and may result in significant loss of secondary suite stock.”
Some Council members thought that it should be left to the individual suite homeowner to police their basement residents ensuring they did not cause any problems. In effect non-suite owners would have to depend on, and be at the mercy of, the rental criteria of the suite-owner, regarding tenant numbers, dogs, cars, smoking, noise etc.
The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) explained that there will be a Suite Registration Program, and there are a number of enforcement tools available. One of these was legal advice and action. What she did not explain was that suite registration programs (more staffing etc.) are very expensive, as are legal advice and actions and as experience has shown more enforcement. A Suite Tracking System was announced but no costs or other details were provided.
It was notable that the CAO was not taking about spending her own money or that the Provincial Suite Guidelines spell out very clearly that secondary suite programs are expensive, especially for small communities.
Oak Bay’s Administration has not been known for “economizing”, whether it be for adding administrative staff, consultant contacting costs, upgrading their office space, surveys etc.: so there is no reason to expect the suite single-family dwelling densification initiative, if approved, is not going to cost taxpayers a lot of money.
It is very alarming and unsettling that these Council members are not acting in the best interests of all the residents in their constituency. They appear to have been influenced by all of those who will gain significantly from Council’s proposed densification initiatives.
Oak Bay Watch Perspective (the facts and nothing but ….)
You will not get the information provided in this newsletter from a planning staff that recommends, or a Council that contracts with, Vancouver consultant companies that get most of their income from developers and developments.
Most of these are members of the Urban Development institute, an association that lobby’s Local and the Provincial Governments for the interests of the Development and Real Estate Industries. The District’s contracted consultants, like the District’s carefully-chosen focus group’s “stakeholders”, have nothing to lose and everything to gain. However, input from these focus groups that exclude residents is highlighted in housing needs and planning reports.
If the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on these initiatives had been used to improve our failing infrastructure, and implement our parks upgrade plan, or balance the annual budget in these difficult financial times, this would have been a far better use of tax dollars and much more beneficial to existing residents and the community.
What is equally disturbing (and we find insulting) is that this Council guided by the recommendations of staff, has not asked residents whether or not they want these single-family home, densification zoning changes. After all, it is residents that will have to bear all the cost and impacts. Instead residents have been provided with a series of no-win situations e.g. limited choices: do you want your streets or lots filled with parked cars. We question if either of these options would be acceptable to residents.
If this weren’t worrying enough, as indicated three Councillors, Appleton, Ney and Green paid no attention to what an analysis of the secondary suite survey findings told them, when only given the 2 no-win options, the majority of residents preferred off–street parking. So much for community engagement.
A good example of a bad parking situation is the 4.1 kilometres - Beach Drive from Windsor north to Uplands. It would not take adding many cars to the present parking situation to compound the existing traffic safety danger.
A drive by Glenlyon Norfolk School at 1701 Beach Drive in the morning or mid afternoon would give Councillors and staff a ‘feel” for what car, bus, van and truck drivers face, both ways on these daily occasions. The two blocks adjacent to the school have narrow streets lined with cars.
Navigation often requires driving on the wrong side of the street and/ or a weaving in-and-out technique. In addition to driver’s safety there are similar safety risks to children and parents entering and leaving their vehicles.
It’s also interesting to us that the reason the provincial Government and City Spaces Consultants tell us there is generally not much uptake on suite registration is because suite owners do not want to declare their rental income, pay any registration fees or spend the money to bring the suite to code. This information seems to have escaped Council’s and staff’s attention because they intend to spend a significant portion of our tax-dollars which we don’t have on a costly suite registration program.
Although biased reports say the cost of such programs can be “defrayed” by registrant’s fees, however if not many suite registrants come though the Municipal Hall’s new sliding doors then the amount collected will be “pocket change”.
We would be remiss if we did not reference the Vancouver suite and infill experience before concluding this newsletter. Council has been informed Vancouver has 80,000 illegal suites and infill development. Every form of this secondary accommodation is represented. You can have 3 suites on a lot: - one in your garage or garden shed, or laneway house, and even in your condominium. Additionally, there are many boarding houses with multiple suite residents plus boarders.
Vancouver’s zoning bylaw changes, that enabled this situation, did not factor in that their new secondary suite housing option zoning did not result in an increase in the tax base. Therefore, even if Vancouver’s suites’ collective untaxed basement and infill population is a conservative estimate of 150,000 extra residents, like Nanaimo's population, it would require a similar $150 million dollar budget to operate.
While we recognize there are efficiencies of scale, however, it’s still easy to get the taxation problem picture when you consider Vancouver now has the highest property taxes in Canada – see Appendix #2. Vancouver also charges for each bag of garbage and has many additional user fees. Their Council is also currently considering a policy change to charge residents for street parking in all neighbourhoods.
In conclusion: The majority of Council have indicated that, even though there has been no evidence provided that there is any cause for alarm, they want to:
- Move from the present suite situation, i.e., 1 or 2 boarders living in a suite with permissible 120-volt stove or an equivalent cooking method,
- To a new a new suite system that will result in many more illegal suites with multiple tenants, and full cooking facilities with the attendant fire hazards.
A read of the Provincial Government Secondary Suite Guidelines Report provides an understanding of the scope of the multi-resident untaxed suite problems, impacts and costs that other communities are struggling with. Add the environmental damage, infrastructure impacts, on or off-street parking, increased traffic, noise for neighbours, and the taxation and budget implications - how could any Council member think that:
- This zoning change could lead to a positive outcome?
- Or that they are acting in the best interests of the residents who elected them?
The United Kingdom’s (UK) immigration policy and the resulting population increase led to all of the United Kingdom now charging homes with 2 separate residences 2 property taxes (stoves not a criteria). This funds the UK’s inspection and safety programs (details on request).
Coming Soon – Details of Council’s Proposed 2nd Densification Initiative: Infill development: launched at Council on January 10, 2022. Two more Consultant Companies have been added, one is a member of the Urban Development Institute, an association that lobbies Local and the Provincial Governments on behalf of the Development and Real Estate Industries. The new consultant contracts run into the tens of thousands of tax dollars but, it is apparent that money is no object to our free-spending Council when it comes to densifying our single-family neighbourhoods.
“Nothing is inevitable if you are paying attention” Oak Bay Watch
Oak Bay Watch is a volunteer community association and its members have a variety of professional backgrounds in both the public and private sector.
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