Victoria council’s Missing Middle Housing Initiative will be moving ahead in the hands of the city’s new council.
Since November 2019, the city has been floating the idea of cutting red tape for rezoning single-family homes to add denser housing options like houseplexes and corner townhouses, a move city staff say will make it easier for young and first-time home buyers to enter the market.
In September, the previous council was expected to make a final decision on the initiative, but it instead voted 5-4 to approve a referral motion to delay a vote until after the Oct. 15 civic election.
On Dec. 1, the new council held a closed-door meeting to discuss how to proceed with the initiative and to gather legal advice.
It is unknown was was discussed or how any votes fell because it was a closed meeting, but it was decided that council would move forward.
At Thursday’s council meeting, a “Rise and Report” on the newly approved initiative was presented.
Mayor Marianne Alto said normally the “Rise and Report” is added to a council agenda to provide information to the public on a matter that was considered and determined in a closed meeting, however no discussion, comments or decisions are made.
“Given the public interest in the matter of the item I would like to take the opportunity, which is my purview as mayor, to provide additional information,” Alto explained.
She said it was decided that council would continue the process commenced before the election once all new council members receive the report on the public hearing, adding council would continue with the project as if current members heard the public hearing.
“This still allows for a variety of possible outcomes,” Alto said.
When the matter returns to to the agenda, council members will have an opportunity to ask questions of clarification to city staff and propose amendments to the relevant bylaws and policies that were being considered at the public hearing.
On Wednesday, Coun. Stephen Hammond added a late item to the council agenda, motioning to reconsider council’s decision to move forward with the MMHI.
The late motion rationale was that a motion to reconsider can only be done at the next council meeting and therefore this matter is time sensitive.
Hammond’s motion stated: “We discussed the various options about going forward with the MMHI. Our options, our reasoning and our vote should be in the open, for purposes of full transparency.”
This forced another closed session during Thursday’s meeting to discuss the motion, as some of the questions and comments that would be brought up were based on information from the Dec. 1 closed meeting.
During the closed discussions, council considered the amendment but no change was made to the previous decision on the process to further consider the initiative.
The policy was a controversial topic in the lead-up to the civic election, but has since been overshadowed by new B.C. Premier David Eby’s plans to enact the Housing Supply Act, which would force the hand of any municipalities that aren’t moving fast enough on increasing housing supply as the province deems necessary.
Essentially, the province would be able to take most of the actions outlined in Victoria’s initiative without any need for approval or public hearing.
But municipalities will still play an important role in shaping what increased housing supply looks like in their jurisdiction, said political scientist and Royal Roads University professor David Black.
“The new premier indicated some weeks ago when this legislation was just a gleam in his eye that the question for municipalities was not gonna be about, what the targets are going to be or whether they’d be targets at all,” said Black.
“The question would be, and I think this is what council’s going to have to figure out, where is the housing going to be located? What is it going to look like? How will it mix in with the rest of the community? I think it’s those questions, this coming from Eby himself, that this council and every other council in the province are going to have to answer for themselves.”
A date has not yet been scheduled for Victoria city council’s next discussion on the Missing Middle Housing Initiative.