What Have We Heard So Far?

Estimated Read Time: 11 Minutes.

As we lead up to the Local Government Election Referenda on October 20, 2018, the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) has hosted three public information events to date. The first event began in Lake Cowichan on September 19, followed by a Ladysmith event on September 24, and an event in Duncan on September 26. Over 150 residents have come out to learn more about the two proposed services and have their questions answered by CVRD staff, elected officials, and representatives of the Cowichan Housing Association (CHA).

Lake Cowichan Public Info Event

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A range of opinions, experiences, and concerns have been voiced by residents, as well as many thoughtful, articulate, and intelligent questions regarding the issues of water protection and affordable housing.

Recognizing that not everyone in the region is able to attend one of these events, and that many residents may have the same questions and concerns, the following is a summary of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) we have heard from community members across the region.

Affordable Housing

Housing

Q: If the CVRD Directors determined that the requisitioned amount was not sufficient to support either of these services, can they increase the amount without the consent of the electorate?

A: If additional funds were sought, the CVRD would need to go back to residents and seek their consent to raise the requisitioned amount. This could be done either through an Alternative Approval Process (also referred to as a ‘counter-petition’) or through another referendum. However, legislation provides the opportunity for an increase in the tax rate after five years of up to 25%. Such an increase does not require an elector assent process, as it allows for regional services to keep up with rising costs and prevents regional districts from needing to hold referendums every five years. (The CVRD administers dozens of services, many of which do not exercise this option.)

Q: Is the $500,000 annual allocation to a Housing Trust Fund sufficient to meet the current need and see new housing constructed?

A: The draft budget of the Cowichan Housing Association Annual Financial Contribution Service calls for $500,000 of the $765,000 total to be allocated to a Housing Trust Fund, which will be intended for seed money to attract and leverage additional funding from the federal and provincial levels of government. On its own, it is not nearly enough to begin to address the issue. But as a small investment (and vote of confidence) in a particular local project, it will help to attract funding to the region. The Cowichan Housing Association may decide to let the Housing Trust Fund build over multiple years to increase its ability to attract or match available funding.

Q: The information CVRD has presented focuses on the cost to residential property owners. Will businesses also be contributing to the cost of these services?

A: Yes, businesses will be contributing. In regional districts, unlike municipalities, the Province of British Columbia sets the rate at which commercial, industrial, and agricultural tax payers contribute as a multiplier of the residential rate. We have not emphasized them as the business community knows what their respective rates are. Also, only residents of the region can vote on the referendum questions, so our emphasis is on explaining the direct impact on residential taxpayers.

Q: What will happen to Habitat for Humanity and other non-profit organizations that focus on housing?

A: There are many not-for-profit organizations that are in the housing business, and the Cowichan Housing Association is in touch with all of them. The idea is that all of the organizations will be more successful in their approaches and applications for funding with the support of the Cowichan Housing Association and the Housing Trust Fund, whether it is through assistance in building the financial plan, or providing application support for funding.

Q: Why not require developers to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing with their projects, in the same way that they are required to provide a certain percentage for parks?

A: The requirement for developers to provide funds or land for parks, at the value of 5% of the land, comes from the BC Local Government Act, not from local governments, although the local government receives the land or the in-kind funds. Some jurisdictions, including the City of Langford, have required that developers provide one affordable housing unit for every 10 units of housing they develop. The City of Langford has backed away from this policy because it was not providing enough affordable housing for their community, and the cost those affordable housing units was being passed on to the market-rate units in a development. The City of Langford has since moved on to having a fee per “door” of housing created to develop its own fund for supporting affordable housing.

Q: Who qualifies for a house? What will be the size of the housing? What types of housing are expected to be built?

A: The answers to these questions will be different for each project, and it would be premature to speculate the details of projects that may be enabled if this service goes forward. The Cowichan Housing Association is currently completing its Attainable Housing Strategy, which may help answer these questions based on the projects that are currently at various stages of development in the region.

Q: How will the public interest in private developments be protected to ensure that this housing will continue to be ‘affordable’?

A: There are mechanisms available that would be negotiated at the time of investment in private projects to ensure that they do not revert to market level in the future. An example could be covenants on the homes, and these agreements would be managed by the Cowichan Housing Association.

Q: Is moving money to non-profit groups a good use of tax dollars?

A: The CVRD Board respects the work of the non-profit sector, and particularly the expertise of the Cowichan Housing Association in addressing issues of housing in our region. The CVRD as an organization has no expertise with affordable housing. The not-for-profit sector is more closely in touch with the community housing sector than  local government. Non-profit societies are very good at leveraging funds and attracting more money into the community, and are efficient in the use of these funds. In this case, the CVRD Board believes that it is a good use of tax dollars to find local solutions.

Q: Why are property owners being taxed? Why not renters as well?

A: Property tax is the only kind of tax that local governments can assess. Renters effectively pay property tax, as property owners calculate the rent they charge based on the expenses of the rental property, which includes property taxes.

Q: How will smaller communities in the region benefit from this service?

A: The current CVRD Board has expressed that, should this proposed service become a reality, there be regional equity in how it is implemented. The Cowichan Housing Association has committed to regional equity, as the need for affordable housing options is everywhere. However, regional equity will take time to realize. This will be one of the discussions that will happen at the time of the negotiation of the operating agreement between the CVRD and the Cowichan Housing Association, as well as each year with the presentation of annual work plans and annual reporting.

Water Protection

Water

Q: Will this water service give the CVRD veto power over municipal land use planning?

A: No, the CVRD will not have the ability to ‘veto’ municipal land use decisions. What this service will provide is better understanding of the health and capacities of the watersheds and aquifers that are in many cases shared by municipalities and/or electoral areas. We want to be able to make shared decisions based on good data. Where appropriate, the CVRD would certainly make recommendations to municipalities about developments and land uses that affect broader water supply objectives.

Q: Why does the CVRD need to hire additional staff for this service?

A: The provision of many CVRD services relies on the work and advice of professional, qualified staff that specialize in their functional areas. In the case of the Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service, we will need to have appropriately trained and qualified staff in the field of hydrology and related earth sciences to support good decisions and sound planning with respect to our water resources. As the service is implemented, the CVRD would recruit the necessary staff to increase the capacity of the CVRD’s Environmental Services Division to undertake and influence, strategic, long-range management and planning of our region’s water resources.

Q: Would this service help get the Cowichan Lake weir project underway?

A: This service is not intended to provide funding for future infrastructure associated with the Cowichan Lake weir. This proposed service will allow the CVRD to engage in planning activities, enter into multi-jurisdictional partnerships, and apply for funding to address water storage for the Cowichan River. If the CVRD were to be involved in funding any future infrastructure related to the Cowichan Lake weir, there would need to be a new service established that would raise the money required.

Q: If I already pay for water won’t I be paying twice?

A: No, the costs you currently pay are for the treatment and distribution of water to your property. The proposed service is focused on protecting water sources and supply.

Q: Why isn’t the CVRD already protecting our water?

A: The CVRD is engaged in these activities but only to a limited extent and in a few key areas. This service would enable the CVRD to expand the service to be more comprehensive and include all parts of our region.

 Q: What about my private well? Will the CVRD want to manage private wells with the proposed Service?

A: No, the intent of the proposed Service is to protect and manage our valuable water resources and not infrastructure, which may belong to either an individual (such as a private well) or a private entity. Although the CVRD would continue to encourage effective management of private wells or septic fields to help property owners protect their assets, as well as the resource, private infrastructure will continue to be managed by the individual or private entity. The proposed Service may be used to consider community-based collection to inform strategies and analysis (similar to many other local governments) for effective management to help protect resources.

Upcoming Public Information Events

If you would like to learn more about the proposed Drinking Water and Watershed Protection Service or the proposed Cowichan Housing Association Annual Financial Contribution Service, please join us at one of the following public information events to listen to a presentation and ask questions so you can make an informed vote during the Local Government Election Referenda on October 20, 2018.

  • THETIS ISLAND
    Tuesday, October 2 from 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
    Forbes Hall
    292 North Cove Road, Thetis Island
  • MILL BAY – Tuesday, October 9 from 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
    Mill Bay Community League Hall
    1035 Shawnigan Mill Bay Road, Mill Bay