Victoria’s Big Housing Moves – Building the Future We Need

Missing Middle Housing forms. The design guidelines ensure that missing middle homes will fit with and complement neighbourhoood character.

This piece was originally printed in the Times Colonist.

Not everyone wants to raise a family in a downtown condo. And, with the cost of single-family dwellings hitting an all-time high, too many families in Victoria can’t afford a $1.4 million starter home. The “missing middle” fills the gap between these two scenarios.

Missing middle housing is ground oriented housing – houseplexes and townhouses – with front doors that open to the street, and backyards that maximize useable green space so kids can play, and families can have their neighbours over for a barbeque.

With its missing middle housing initiative, the City is trying to address an out-of-date planning and zoning process that currently makes it easy to build homes that few people can afford. The missing middle housing initiative will make it as easy to build homes that more people can afford.

Here is an example: On Pembroke Street, across from Central Park, there are two sixplexes under construction that will provide 12 homes likely to sell for $750,000 or $800,000. These homes had to go through a two-year development process with no certainty that they would be approved by Council, and added construction costs due to cost escalation during the approval process. In contrast, on Chandler Street, a single-family home was recently built. This home required no Council approvals and received staff approvals comparatively quickly. It was listed for $2.4 million.

The missing middle proposal would delegate approvals to staff for houseplexes and townhouses – the same way they are currently delegated for single family homes – as long as the proposed new homes fit within design guidelines that ensure compatibility with neighbourhood character.

Making these changes now will help increase the supply of homes available over the next few decades for people we need to attract to and keep in our communities – doctors, nurses, police officers, tradespeople, and others who are essential to our community wellbeing and economy.  

It was reported in the media recently that a doctor planned to relocate to Victoria but couldn’t find a home. VicPD created a hiring incentive of $20,000 to attract officers from other parts of Canada. While there is keen interest from across the country, few have taken up the offer, as they can’t move here because they can’t find suitable housing.

Missing middle housing is not an affordable housing initiative. It should be seen in context of other key housing initiatives the City is working on concurrently to address the full spectrum of housing needs. To solve the housing crisis, we must work at it from all angles and create appropriate housing for people on income assistance, low-income workers, seniors, and working professionals. We must meet people’s housing needs throughout their lifetimes.

That’s why the City recently adopted new legislation to expedite affordable housing projects built by non-profits and co-ops. We streamlined the process and reduced the time, costs and risk to affordable housing providers. This will encourage the development of more deeply affordable housing and new co-ops.

We also recently undertook a villages and corridors planning process. The new plans will increase rental and affordable rental opportunities near neighbourhood centres and along and adjacent to transportation corridors. This initiative has a strong focus on purpose-built rental housing, with incentives for affordable housing. Protecting and increasing the supply of purpose-built rental is a key objective to provide security for renters and prevent displacement.

Taken together, these three big moves address different housing needs in our community and provide opportunities to increase the housing supply in Victoria – for both renters and owners.

Our goal is to increase the supply and diversity of housing, and to improve housing choice.

With all three of these initiatives, city staff have worked hard to challenge themselves, Council and our community to think outside the box, to be creative, and to push the boundaries of provincial legislation. Doing so means we have been able to successfully incorporate the many things we know our community cares about: affordability, accessibility, equity, sustainability, urban design, mobility, and protection of the urban forest.

The City’s recent Housing Needs Assessment made clear that our housing supply is not keeping pace, that there is a large affordability gap for both renters and owners and that our housing options are not meeting the needs of our residents. To have a future that looks different than the projections of our Housing Needs Assessment, we need to take all these actions.

The housing types we build now, and in the future, will influence who can live and work here and how our city grows. In other words, we need to build for the future we want. 

Missing Middle Moving Forward

On Thursday, at a Committee of the Whole meeting, Council voted 5-4 to forward the missing middle initiative to a public hearing before making a decision. This is the first time in ten years that I made notes to introduce a council motion! So I thought I would share them with you all here as a supplement to the post above. You can watch the meeting and find all the staff reports and relevant documents here.

Not enough or flawed consultation

  • We need to be human about this and we need to be honest about it
  • In ten years at the table this is what I’ve observed:
  • Sometimes when people say there was no consultation its that they were just busy in their lives – as many of us are – and they missed information that was out there, until it comes to committee, which is why we have public committee meetings
  • Sometimes when people say there is not enough – or flawed – consultation it means they disagree with the outcome the consultation
  • Some people feel that there has been not enough consultation on this initiative
  • Some people feel that there has been enough consultation and after two years of engagement, just get on with the decision
  • This is why we have a public hearing at the end of the process – so EVERYONE who has now heard about the initiative as it comes to a public committee meeting can join the hearing and have staff clearly explain the initiative to everyone, all at once, and so that everyone can weigh in
  • Let’s not tear our community, council, or staff apart today debating the consultation,
  • Everyone may have different feelings and opinions about the consultation process … [PAUSE]

Housing Crisis

  • But what is not a matter of opinions or feelings, and is a cold, hard fact that everyone can agree on: we are in the middle of the biggest housing crisis our residents have ever faced. It’s a housing affordability crisis AND a housing supply crisis. And it’s a crisis because we haven’t overhauled the city’s residential zoning process, ever, to catch up to the current reality
  • These are the facts.
  • And in a crisis, we have to act.
  • I’m certain that the Missing Middle Housing Initiative is not perfect, and that there will need to be changes over the next few decades as this rolls out
  • But I am convinced of two things, and I hope that a majority of Council members are as well:

First: Economically, we’ve squeezed everything out of these projects that we can:

  • Adaptable units
  • Accessible parking
  • 20% 3 bedrooms
  • Securing right of way for wider sidewalks, street trees or bike lanes
  • Backyards
  • Canopy trees and protection of the urban forest
  • Transportation demand measures like car share and bus passes
  • Contribution to the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund
  • No matter how much more economic analysis we do, or how many more independent consultants we engage to do analysis, the facts will be the same, we can’t squeeze any more out of these homes without turning them into phantom projects that can never be built

Second: We need to send this forward to a public hearing as is – with the tenant protections we’ve now added – and to allow our very keen, intelligent and engaged public to hear from each other before we make a decision.

  • Right now, our inboxes are flooded.
  • We need to take this conversation out of our inboxes and into the public realm so that everyone can hear each other’s stories and circumstances, and so that council can hear them, before we make a final decision
  • There were some members of council who were uncertain about sending the Expedited Affordable Housing proposal forward to a public hearing. But the majority of council decided to do so. And we were all surprised by the stories that people shared that night, and by the overwhelming support for that initiative.
  • We don’t know whether we will be in for a similar surprise with this public hearing or not, but we need to listen, and see what comes forward.
  • Although I don’t want to see this initiative fail at all I’d rather see it fail – or be postponed, or sent back for revisions – after a public hearing than here on the committee floor

A final few wrap up thoughts:

  • When Council makes decisions, we always consult and focus on the most affected stakeholders. This proposal has been to the Renters Advisory Committee and to the Accessibility Working Group. Of the renters who took the survey more were in support of delegated authority than homeowners.
  • And the Accessibility Advisory Committee is the reason that at least one unit in all MM housing needs to be adaptable and have an accessible parking spot
  • The most affected stakeholders are not the people who already own a single family home in Victoria’s traditional neighbourhoods. They will be protected by the design guidelines that will ensure any new buildings are a fit.
  • The most affected people are people like this young woman who wrote to Council:
  • “My husband and I currently live in Fernwood, and have been at our condo for a few years now. We love the city and the neighborhood, but with a baby on the way, and possibly more down the road, we know we will outgrow this condo in the not too distant future. 
  • “I work as a registered nurse at the BC Cancer Agency, and my husband works at the University of Victoria. Even for two working professionals, the dream of owning a single family home seems to be out of reach. We could however, save up and hope to own a townhome or a unit in a multiplex. This would allow us to stay in the community we call home, and raise our family here.
  • Passing this initiative is critical for us, and many, many families in similar situations.”
  • Thousands of others like her will not be able to call Victoria home
  • THESE are some of the people who are also affected by the housing crisis and who will benefit from this initiative, to the benefit of our whole community
  • My closing point – and I really hope that Council and the public will get the analogy that I’m about to make to the climate crisis: how we tackle the housing crisis is a complex issue with a number of solutions
  • You don’t solve the climate crisis by only building bike lanes
  • You also need zero emission buses
  • And Building retrofits
  • And Waste reduction
  • And carbon taxes
  • And so on
  • So too, we don’t solve the housing crisis only by building below market rental units
  • The Missing Middle Housing initiative is not an affordable housing initiative
  • It should be seen in context of other key housing initiatives the City is working on concurrently so we can address the whole spectrum of needs.
  • To solve the housing crisis and the affordability crisis, we have to create appropriate housing for people on income assistance, low-income workers, seniors, and working professionals. We have to meet people’s housing needs throughout their lifetimes.
  • Missing Middle housing alone won’t to that. It can’t do that.
  • That’s why we recently adopted the Expedited Affordable Housing program.
  • It’s why through the villages and corridor planning we’re creating housing opportunity zones and mixed residential zones to create more rental and affordable purpose built rental housing near neighbourhood centres and along and adjacent to transportation corridors.
  • Etc etc
  • Taken together, all of these moves – including missing middle housing  –  address different housing needs in our community
  • Our goal is to increase the supply and diversity of housing, and to improve housing choice.   

One final example about how this all fits together.

  • Chard HAVEN Below Market Affordable Home Ownership at Cook at Yates, financed by BC Housing program (which MMH also eligible for) of the 94 homes that have sold so far, 81 have sold to Victoria renters who will be moving out of their rental units when their new homes are built,
  • That’s 81 units returned to the rental pool
  • Just like addressing the climate crisis means doing more than just building bike lanes, addressing the housing crisis means taking a big picture, long-term, ecosystem based approach
  • MMH taken together along with all of this Council’s other big moves does this. It’s one puzzle piece in a very complex puzzle
  • So let’s send this initiative forward to a public hearing so we can hear from the public, and so they can hear from each other and understand each other’s points of view a bit better before we make a final decision


Now I will turn to the seconder


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