Mission Possible: Well-planned, Sustainable Urban Growth
Q&A with the Urban Development Institute – Capital Region
As Greater Victoria — and much of Canada — faces a housing crunch and renewed focus on densification, more efficient permitting and building affordable housing, the Urban Development Institute – Capital Region (UDI) is among the city leaders working on solutions.
With 200 corporate members, UDI serves as the public voice of the real estate development industry, communicating with local governments, the media and community groups. Founded in 1972 in the Pacific Region, UDI concentrates its activities in three areas: government and community relations, research, and professional development and education.
Kathy Whitcher, Executive Director of UDI – Capital Region, talks about the organization’s advocacy work promoting wise and efficient urban growth, while sharing the development industry’s impact on our regional economy.
Though the challenge facing us right now is great, she says, finding solutions is possible if we all work together.
Why did you join South Island Prosperity Partnership?
UDI, like SIPP, is an organization that strives to grow and maintain vibrancy in our region — economically, socially, and environmentally. Our organizations are often working on similar, if not the same, initiatives. UDI, in particular, wanted to bring a housing lens to accompany SIPP’s economic focus to ensure people moving here to work have a place to live.
What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?
UDI sees housing as an important component of a healthy economy. We have been experiencing a housing crisis for several years. If we want people to work in our region and contribute to maintaining our robust economy, they need a place to live.
The construction industry is also a very large contributing sector to our economic prosperity — contributing about 25% of our GDP annually.
What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household sustaining jobs, and investment?
- Climate — We have the best climate in the country.
- Quality of Life — We have access to the ocean, many lakes, mountains, etc.; our outdoor lifestyle can be maintained year-round.
- Tech — Our tech industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 years. This allows people from other parts of the world to live here and work remotely.
- Land Development — Our area is not cheap, but we still are less expensive than Vancouver.
What are you most excited about in terms of your own organization’s plans and potential?
COVID was disruptive for everyone, including UDI, but there were also some silver linings. One very exciting new silver lining/initiative that UDI started because of COVID was our Real Estate Development (RED) Management Program. This is a program that fills an existing educational gap for people who are interested in working in the development industry. It is a nine-month program and upon completion of the entire course, you receive a certificate of completion.
We are just finalizing our partnership agreement with Royal Roads where they will promote the program and provide a certificate from their institution upon completion as well.
What’s one thing about your organization you really want people to know that they probably don’t know?
Our organization’s members are people from all sectors of the development industry. Our industry has a bad name, and I would really like people to know that developers are not bad people. They build the houses everyone lives in and add to our robust economy.
The idea that developers are making millions/billions of dollars off their projects is a myth – they do make money — they are running a business and working with financial institutions, so they must make a profit to qualify for funding. They are also working in one of the most volatile and risk-prone professions — it is not for the faint of heart.
What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why?
We are, and have been for several years, facing a housing crisis. Rising material costs, labour shortages, rising land costs, COVID, and now a war, have all exacerbated the challenge.
UDI will continue to work with all levels of government and the development community to see that housing across the spectrum is delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible, using best practices to ensure that people who want to live and work in our communities have a place to call home.
What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy?
The most profound lesson was how resilient the development industry was throughout the pandemic. Companies were able to pivot to incorporate provincial health protocols and maintain their pace of work to deliver the much-needed housing our communities need.
When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like?
More transit to connect our communities to cut down on traffic congestion and GHGs. More compact communities — 15-minute neighbourhoods — where people can live, work and play within 15 minutes of their homes. The 15-minute neighbourhood will also address climate change by way of people not having to travel in a car to work or to shop.