Housing is only part of the story. We also need to consider how the built form of the city supports community well-being and economic vitality.
I recently received a good, old-fashioned, hand-written letter from a resident suggesting that I write an editorial focused on the City’s current housing initiatives. It’s a welcome suggestion, and, in light of Victoria’s first annual Housing Summit held yesterday, a timely one too.
Housing is one of the biggest issues facing our community and our local economy right now. From young families to seniors, finding appropriate, affordable housing to rent or own is difficult. And with the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.2%, businesses need workers and workers need housing. This is becoming a familiar and well-worn story. And it’s why City Council has made affordable housing a key priority in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan with a heavy focus on housing in 2019 and 2020.
It’s also why over 150 housing stakeholders gathered for a full day for a Housing Summit. A diversity of people including renters advocates, developers, non-profit housing providers, policy experts, neighbourhood organizations and members of faith communities came together to provide input to update the City’s Housing Strategy.
Developed in 2015 out of the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, much of the 2015-2026 Housing Strategy was implemented last term. Working with the community, Council and staff tackled 25 actions that were relatively easy, low-hanging fruit in order to increase housing supply and housing diversity, and build awareness including:
- Creating a standard minimum unit size
- Updating the Victoria Housing Reserve Fund to grant $10,000 per bedroom (rather than $10,000 per unit) to encourage family sized units and to tie the fund to the housing targets identified in the Housing Strategy
- Prioritizing non-market housing during permit approval processes, with highest priority going to non-profit housing developments
- Delegating approvals and application fee waivers for certain development applications
- Developing a bonus density policy to leverage development to create affordable housing
- Updating the garden suite policy and guidelines to remove the rezoning requirement and move to a delegated development permit approval process
- Removing several zoning rules regulating secondary suites that were hindering their development
- Launching a Market Rental and Revitalization study where we:
– Completed an inventory of the existing market rental stock in the City of Victoria
– Developed a pilot program to incentivize energy efficiency and seismic upgrades to this older stock
– Improved protections for tenants through the implementation of a Tenant Assistance Policy to provide compensation and support for tenants who become displaced due to redevelopment, and through a Standards of Maintenance Bylaw to improve living conditions inside dwelling units (targeted for adoption this spring)
This term we will do a lot more. For a full list of proposed housing initiatives please read the Strategic Plan Objective #3. I’ll be writing affordable housing blog posts throughout the year to keep you up to date as we move forward. Topics will range from tiny homes to intergenerational living, beginning today with “missing middle” housing.
Missing Middle Housing
The city continues to grow and young families want to continue to call it home but they’re having a hard time. Victoria continues to lose people as they enter their 30s.
That’s why we need forms of housing like townhouses, houseplexes, multiplexes and more that are attainable, as single family home-ownership remains out of reach for many.
We’ll begin in 2019 with a city-wide planning exercise to identify suitable locations across the city for townhouses, housplexes and other forms of missing middle housing. In 2020 we’ll consider a comprehensive amendment to the City’s Zoning Bylaw to permit all missing middle housing forms as a right without the need for a rezoning or a development permit. We may not go as far as the City of Minneapolis did in eliminating single family zoning. But we need to make our great neighbourhoods more accessible for more people while maintaining the character that makes them so special.
The challenges to be addressed in creating more missing middle infill housing include maintaining greenspace and the urban forest, affordability, transportation, neighbourhood character, a sense of fear that comes from the perception of loss, and worries about the pace of change.
The City is changing. And the world is changing. More people are living in cities and cities are becoming more populous. Victoria is no exception. We could change by default and be in a place of reaction as these trends continue. But the Victoria Housing Summit and the updated Housing Strategy will allow us instead to change by design and be proactive to meet the challenges ahead.
Keep up to date on progress at www.victoria.ca/housing.