Housing in Oak Bay
Oak Bay stands as a unique community within the Greater Victoria region, distinguished by its historical development and enduring characteristics. Its inception dates back to the early stages of urbanization in the region. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Oak Bay had reached a point where nearly all of its available land had been developed, with only portions of land under the ownership of the University of Victoria remaining, straddling the border with the District of Saanich. A particular segment of Oak Bay evolved into a mixed-use service village, including a mid-rise residential neighborhood at Oak Bay Avenue and Newport Avenue, while smaller village-like nodes emerged in other areas, such as Cadboro Bay and Estevan Villages.
Since the 1960s, Oak Bay has experienced minimal population growth, with both the number of households and the overall population remaining relatively stable. BC Stats reports a consistent population figure of just over 18,000 residents from 2001 to 2021. During this time, the youth population has remained steady, while the adult demographic has aged progressively.
Between 2018 and 2022, the District received six applications for rezoning, with five of them gaining approval. New development activity has primarily centered on single-family home redevelopments, with only a few multi-family projects in progress. This trend persists despite the favorable conditions offered by Oak Bay, which include:
- no Development Cost Charges for new development,
- low application fees,
- minimal Community Amenity Contribution requirements, and
- the district's reputation for a high quality of life, making it one of the most desirable areas in the region.
Relative to many other communities in British Columbia, Oak Bay has not established comprehensive policies and regulations for new housing growth. This is because, for a long time, there was little need for such measures due to the limited availability of redevelopment sites within the community. Consequently, bonus density provisions, common in areas facing redevelopment pressures, have not been a pressing concern in Oak Bay thus far.
Preparing for Future Growth
Over the past decade, the District has undertaken initiatives to create new housing options. The 2014 Official Community Plan (OCP) incorporated a housing strategy, outlined objectives for developing new housing policies and regulations, and designated all single-family areas as Infill Housing Development Permit Areas for rezoning applications. These policies recognized the fully developed nature of the District and established a modest growth target of up to 0.5% annually. Currently, permitting for new homes and secondary suites is projected to reach approximately 0.3% (30 units) in 2023, aligning with the OCP's objectives.
In 2020, the Council approved a Housing Needs report, identifying the demand for additional housing to address community needs. The estimated housing requirement for 2019-2024 is 647 new units of various sizes, translating to approximately 130 units (1.6%) per year. However, the current level of development activity falls short of meeting these identified housing needs. To bridge this gap, the Council has identified a set of Council Priority Projects for the 2022-2026 term aimed at creating the necessary conditions to facilitate the required development.
The District has been working on updating regulations, including the inclusion of Secondary Suites as an option for all single-detached homes. Additionally, the Infill Housing Strategy project engaged the community in identifying diverse housing types and guiding principles for their development. These principles encompass providing a range of housing options, streamlining implementation processes, and preserving the community's cherished characteristics. The Infill Housing Program is set to become the District's primary mechanism for increasing housing supply. Community input has demonstrated strong support for expanding housing options, with plans for the program's establishment in 2024, potentially including pre-zoning for certain housing types.
A notable opportunity within the district is the Cedar Hill Corners site at 2400 Cedar Hill Cross Road, a large vacant area situated on University Lands currently earmarked for long-term university-related development. However, there is consideration of revisiting its designation to address housing needs in the medium term, reflecting the urgency of the housing crisis.
External Factors Impacting Development Activity
Despite these efforts, housing development volumes in Oak Bay have remained relatively low in recent years. Several external factors, beyond the direct control of the District, contribute to this situation:
1. Limited vacant land.
2. Absence of significant land assembly.
3. Scarcity of suitable industrial land for redevelopment.
4. Insufficiency of large commercial properties suitable for intensive mixed-use redevelopment.
5. The overall high cost and good condition of properties, making redevelopment expensive or unattractive to property owners.
These challenges are not unique to Oak Bay but are also prevalent across the region and nationwide. Factors such as a shortage of construction labor, rising construction costs, and increasing interest rates further exacerbate housing supply and affordability concerns.
The District has several housing initiatives underway and planned as part of a program to support Council's priority for creating a more diverse range of housing options in the community.
Housing priorities for Oak Bay are based on two key components:
- The housing policy directions contained in the Official Community Plan (OCP); and
Council's Priorities include Housing and seeks to enable creation of more diverse and affordable housing that is responsive to current and future community/regional needs and climate change imperatives (Council Priorities Plan)
A total of seven (7) projects are scheduled for the coming years:
- Infill Housing Strategy
- Village Area Planning
- Development Services Optimization and Digitization
- Response to the BC Homes for People Action Plan
- Secondary Suites Incentives
- Rental Housing Strategy
- Housing Action Plan
Creating more housing options in Oak Bay will take time to ensure new regulations are supported by the community and balance the need for additional housing with maintaining community character and liveability. Oak Bay’s approach relies on community engagement for each of the initiatives with the goal of developing an approach to housing options that is best suited to Oak Bay.