Esquimalt Puts a Health Lens on Housing Strategies

Name of the Event: Healthy Housing Forum
Date: April 30, 2015 – 8:30am to 3:30pm
Community Host: Township of Esquimalt
Health Authority partner: Vancouver Island Health Authority

by Marlene Lagoa, Community Development Coordinator

We spend a significant amount of time in our homes. The way a home is built as well as its location can affect our health as we go about our day (eating, sleeping, relaxing and working at home). Not having adequate housing is stressful and potentially dangerous. 

The Township of Esquimalt recognized the importance of putting a health lens on housing strategies by gathering a diverse group of people to discuss housing and health in their community. A background on healthy housing and the built environment can be found on this website under the Taking Action section > Healthy Built Environment here.

Local government staff such as planners, elected officials including Mayor Barbara Desjardins, health authority representatives as well as housing providers, architects, developers, and community stakeholders came together for the Healthy Housing Forum held on April 30th made possible through a PlanH Healthy Communities Capacity Building Fund.

The event was held at a hall on Esquimalt’s Canadian Forces Base overlooking the sweeping, sunny ocean view of the Harbour. The venue made it clear why people are drawn to living in picturesque Esquimalt. However, the discussions throughout the day revealed that housing is a barrier for some people in the community.

Through a series of presentations and facilitated exercises participants explored the relationship between housing strategies and community health and well-being. Victoria Domonkos from Vancouver Island Health Authority delivered a presentation on the Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit.

“The Toolkit presents research evidence linking aspects of housing to health related outcomes,” said Domonkos, “This evidence can be applied locally to shape healthier housing in Esquimalt, which will work to improve the overall health and wellbeing of people living in the community.”

While a healthy environment is an important piece of the housing puzzle, availability of housing is also a serious issue. Marika Albert from the Community Social Planning Council pointed out the 0% vacancy rate of purpose-built three bedroom rental units in Esquimalt. She said this indicates there is a need for more affordable family housing units in Esquimalt. Building on these points was a deeper discussion on Co-op housing.

As the day progressed there were break-out sessions where smaller groups  honed in on specific topics and discussed  possible strategies to address housing issues. Groups  later shared their ideas with all forum participants.

 Some of the strategies discussed were:

  1. The municipality working closely with the development community to encourage the revitalization of old building stock by providing a property tax holiday for a specified period of time.
  2. Addressing the shortage of services and supportive housing for seniors so that long-term residents can stay in the community (“age in place”).
  3. Offering density bonusing to developers who provide a minimum percentage of units in new developments below market value (and ensure it is secured in perpetuity).    

Marlene Lagoa, Community Development Coordinator, organized the event and reflected on a general theme around an increase is housing. “We heard from participants that there is a need in Esquimalt for more market housing options that meet the needs of our local workforce, as well as ensuring there is adequate and affordable housing options for families and seniors.”  

The feedback will be put to good use, explained Bill Brown, Director of Development Services in Esquimalt. “The Healthy Communities Capacity Building Fund (PlanH grant) allowed us to bring together a diverse group of people, representing various housing interests to listen to a variety of speakers whose housing expertise was used to inform a series of discussions. “The results of these discussions will help guide future housing policy in Esquimalt including informing the upcoming review of our Official Community Plan.”

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