A key pillar of Victoria’s housing strategy could come back to the council table next week after its timeline was muddied late last month.
Council, in a 5-4 May 26 vote, supported Coun. Ben Isitt’s motion that would delay a decision on whether the missing middle initiative would get a public hearing.
The missing middle refers to housing types, bridging the gap between standalone homes and high-density apartments, that currently don’t exist on a scale anywhere near the level needed by groups like growing families. The city’s proposal looks to boost that housing supply and diversity by rezoning areas that only permit single-family homes. The change would allow smaller multi-family builds like townhomes and houseplexes on those properties.
Isitt’s deferral motion called on staff to use public comments from an already planned information session and make amendments to the missing middle draft document. Staff noted the proposed referral would likely push the initiative’s timeline into the fall – creating questions about its future with October’s looming municipal elections.
That delay would result from the time needed to draft potential changes, consultations on economic and architectural repercussions of those changes and council’s summer break, staff said.
Coun. Stephen Andrew, who voted for the referral, said his previous timeline concerns have been resolved, so he’ll try to have the delayed process reconsidered at the June 9 council meeting.
“We need to hear what the public has to say about the initiative on the record and a public hearing achieves that,” he told Black Press Media.
As the missing middle timeline changes almost by the week, Housing Minister David Eby on Monday said he was “heartbroken” to see the process “going off the rails.”
“It shouldn’t be that you can build a new single-family home with no oversight from city council, but if you want to build three townhomes or you want to put six units into your home, you have to go through a lengthy, multi-year process,” Eby said, alluding to the city’s current zoning.
The minister and Leo Spalteholz, a volunteer with Homes for Living, both say the missing middle program is a cautious approach, not a contentious one.
Spalteholz said it’s clear what will happen if the initiative falls through.
“We’re living it right now, there’s endless escalation in prices and endless escalation in rent; that’s what our current system is giving us,” he said. “Right now, on the majority of the land in the city, everything is illegal except for a single-detached house.”
Standalone homes easily eclipsing the $1 million mark are completely out of reach for the vast majority of families wanting to live here, the advocate said – adding that affordability in Victoria is a result of a supply shortage.
“There’s just no future where we make housing more affordable while still reserving most of our land exclusively for the least affordable housing type.”
With some saying even townhome prices are unattainable, Spalteholz said that’s because there are so few of them. Missing middle is just one piece of the puzzle, he said, as much more non-market, purpose rental and overall housing diversity is needed.
“This is not going to solve all of our problems, but it will give families a chance to stay in the city, otherwise they will just be pushed out.”
Eby and Spalteholz also agreed that people want to live here, with the minister noting that 100,000 people moved to B.C. in the last year.
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