Senior managers in North Cowichan are concerned about overloading municipal staff with work in their efforts to keep up with the priorities of council.
On Dec. 2, council decided to defer a motion for staff to work with the Cowichan Housing Association to develop an affordable housing policy until a meeting later this month after hearing the concerns of CAO Ted Swabey and Planning and Building Manager Rob Conway.
Coun. Rob Douglas introduced the motion after pointing out that there is a critical lack of affordable housing in North Cowichan, for both rental and ownership of homes.
He said the situation has grown steadily worse over the last decade as market conditions have changed in cities and towns across B.C. and Canada.
“There is some urgency to [the motion] as there are several development proposals coming, including one with several hundred units at Berkey’s Corner,” Douglas said.
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie agreed, stating that the lack of affordable housing in North Cowichan should be a concern for everyone at the council table.
“The housing market is not in line with the need, and we have to ask how COVID-19 will further impact accessibility to housing,” she said.
“We have to be proactive here and I suggest we develop a new housing policy in tandem with the [ongoing] review of the official community plan.”
But Swabey said staff doesn’t currently have the resources to develop a new policy on top of all its other duties and responsibilities.
“I encourage you to defer this motion until we present our business plan to council [on Dec. 8] so that we can coordinate and present all the work council wants us to do,” he said.
“You keep layering on projects on us and every time you do that, you think we can make it a priority. This can’t happen. Council has already set out its priorities and this will be at the bottom of the list until we get to it long after the OCP review is complete. Giving us more resources is another way to do it, but just giving us more money to hire a consultant means that someone still has to manage it, so it doesn’t solve the problem.”
Swabey said patience is required to complete the monolithic task of reviewing and updating the OCP, which is going to require a huge “implementation requirement” with many more projects for council to consider when finished.
“I encourage you to wait until we present our business plan so you can get a better picture of all the work you are asking staff to do,” he said.
Conway said the current OCP already contains significant policies around affordable housing and the issue is not for more policy, but the ability to implement what is already there.
“There are things we can do to enhance our [affordable housing] policy and that will come out of the OCP review,” he said.
“Our resources need to be focused and we will come to council with some options on how to advance some priorities on housing as well as other areas that council has as priorities, including the environment. There’s a bunch of stuff council wants us to advance and that requires boots on the ground, or we have to bring in consultants.”
Mayor Al Siebring said he didn’t think it would be wise for council to vote on the motion until members have seen the business plan.
“I think [staff] has heard us clearly, and maybe they can tweak the business plan a little, or maybe drop some other priorities [to accommodate us],” he said.
Council voted unanimously to defer the motion until the next council meeting on Dec. 16.