Victoria council votes for more public consultation on missing middle housing

Victoria council votes for more public consultation on missing middle housing
Nicholas Pescod/CHEK News

A motion to rezone single-family neighbourhoods in Victoria has been kicked down the road by city council.

The Missing Middle Housing plan would rezone single-family homes to allow houseplexes, corner townhouses, heritage-conserving infill and accessory uses. It’s a move city staff say will help diversify housing choices as single-family residences become increasingly unattainable for young and first-time home buyers.

On May 12, the committee of the whole voted to send the motion to a public hearing, but it needed to be voted on in council.

On Thursday, council instead voted to refer the motion back to staff to complete a public engagement session.

At the start of the meeting, in hopes of getting council to vote in favour of sending the motion to a public hearing, Mayor Lisa Helps noted federal Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen said it’s a step he hopes more communities take.

“We presented to him a one-page briefing note outlining the city’s, what I call our three big moves. So expedited affordable housing, missing middle housing and the villages and corridors,” Helps said.

“He held up the briefing note and said this is everything that I’m asking for, this is everything that I want cities across the country to be doing…he went on to say that the $4 billion housing accelerator funds will flow to cities that are making these kinds of changes to increase housing supply.”

Helps said the initiative has been in the works — including public consultation — for two years.

Coun. Ben Isitt raised concerns about the motion not doing enough to address affordability and moved to defer a vote until July so staff could complete more public engagement and propose amendments based on the engagement.

This is a very complex change in the city’s approach to zoning and it applies, or would apply, to more than three-quarters of the city’s land base,” Isitt said.

“So I think it’s reasonable for us to ensure the public has had an opportunity, an adequate opportunity to consider what’s proposed that there’s been a proper analysis both by the public and by council of the potential advantages and disadvantages of the proposed regulatory approach.”

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe voted to defer the motion because she says she believes the motion would benefit from more consultation.

“This is something that I’ve wanted from the very beginning which prompted me to vote in opposition of it, because I do think it needs more time,” Thornton-Joe said.

“I also feel that we need to bring people along with us and support this and celebrate this as a positive initiative. I think the more people that don’t understand the policy, and come out and speak against it because they don’t understand it fully, I think it gives people angst and I don’t think I want to give people more stress than they already are enduring.”

Coun. Sarah Potts said she felt the motion should move to public hearing since staff had already been working and consulting on the initiative for two years.

“Everyone’s who’s reviewing this is making a number of assumptions of the outcome of the missing middle initiative. But what we mainly have now is assumptions,” Potts said.

“I feel really strongly that we should continue with the engagement that we’re doing, we should have a public hearing. And if we decide to go forward then we should really focus on the next steps which is the evaluation piece.”

Speaking with CHEK News, Brendon Ogmundson, chief economist with the British Columbia Real Estate Association, noted part of the reason houses are so expensive in Victoria is the low supply.

In April 2022, the number of active listings in Greater Victoria decreased by 7.6 per cent from the previous year, and he says part of the issue is how long it takes to build homes.

“In Victoria they’re building a lot of homes, especially a lot of rental units, but they’re just taking a really long time to complete,” Ogmundson said.

“So that’s one of the real major structural issues in basically every market in B.C., is it’s taking a really long time to get any of that supply to the market.”

He says lots of people are looking to move to Victoria, but fewer are moving away and the supply isn’t keeping up.

“There’s a few markets in B.C. where we see prices softening a little bit in a month-over-month. Victoria is not one of them. I think because the supply situation is so much more severe,” Ogmundson said. “Until we see a lot of supply come back on the market, and we see inventories build up to healthy levels, we’re going to continue to see pretty strong price pressure.”

The motion to have staff hold further consultation passed 5-4 with councillors Isitt, Thornton-Joe, Stephen Andrew, Sharmarke Dubow, and Geoff Young voting in favour.

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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