Part 4. Missing Middle Housing and More Inclusive, Climate-Friendly Cities for the Future

A single family subdivision being built in the westshore, where a forest once stood.

This is the final part in a four-part series to make as strong a case as possible for Missing Middle Housing in all neighbourhoods in Victoria. This initiative is key to the city’s future.

In a nutshell, Missing Middle Housing will allow for more inclusive housing forms “as of right”, which means without needing to go through a rezoning process. Missing Middle zoning will create more townhouses and houseplexes (including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, etc.) to help diversify housing choices. It’s aimed at people who will never be able to afford a single family home in Victoria.

Missing Middle Housing will also help to address climate change and contain urban sprawl by making homes available for families closer to the urban core. This reduces transportation emissions by locating housing within walkable and transit oriented locations, unlike the depiction in the photo above.

Fundamentally, Missing Middle Housing is about changing the way we regulate land use. Currently, if an owner of a single family home, or a duplex, or triplex wants to demolish that building and build a new single family home, all that is required is a building permit. Yet if a homeowner wants to demolish their single family home and build a houseplex, it takes a couple of years to go through a political process, with no guarantee of success.

Here’s how this has played out: the City approved fewer than 250 missing middle housing units between 2012 and 2019. By contrast, in the same period, the City approved over 600 units in the form of single-family dwellings or suites therein.

And, a current market update presented by the Condo Group at a recent Urban Development Institute webinar shows the dearth of supply when it comes to townhomes, not only in Victoria but also across the region.

“Months of supply” is a calculation that quantifies the relationship between supply and demand in a housing market. It quantifies how many months it would take the market (in its current condition) to absorb the entire active inventory. A healthy housing market has between four and six months of supply available. The 0.6 months of supply for townhomes across the region is extremely concerning. Developers have the advantage in this situation, as they can charge a premium on new townhouse units, because there is virtually no competition.

More Inclusive Cities

But this lack of supply puts young families and others seeking to afford to purchase a home in the the city at a disadvantage. Census data shows that Victoria continues to lose young families with children to the suburbs. This is worrisome when thinking about inclusion, but it’s also a public health and well-being issue. Census data also shows that Victoria leads Canada’s mid-sized cities in walking and cycling to work. There are health benefits to being able to afford to buy a home in the city.

In a previous blog post, I’ve laid out the efforts the City is making to create more truly affordable housing for those who are struggling just to make ends meet. Since publishing that post, Council has taken a step forward to make affordable housing (run by non-profit housing operators, co-ops, or government agencies) as of right anywhere in the city, as long as it fits with the City’s Official Community Plan. The final step in that policy change is a public hearing sometime in the next couple of months.

As noted in the post on the housing affordability crisis, unlike the City’s other housing policies, Missing Middle Housing won’t create affordable housing for very low, low and moderate income earners. But it will make home ownership more attainable for more working people in the city. This is also an important objective if we want to have a healthy, diverse community, and a strong economy. Many businesses are having trouble filling jobs and attracting people to Victoria because housing is too expensive, even for working professionals.

The Victoria Real Estate Board’s past decade of data shows that townhouses have continued to cost 20% less than a single-family dwelling in Victoria. Prezoning land through the Missing Middle Housing initiative can help bring the costs of townhomes and houseplexes down even lower.

Here’s how:

The City of Victoria’s planning staff have identified alignment between the City’s Missing Middle Housing initiative and the provincial Housing Hub’s Affordable Home Ownership Program (AHOP), as well as other provincial priorities, including affordability, accessibility, and CleanBC objectives.

Having Missing Middle Housing forms allowed as of right / without a rezoning process required substantially de-risks these projects from a provincial financing point of view. Provincial programs through AHOP could increase the proportion of missing middle units sold at below market prices, including three-bedroom units.

For example, on a potential sixplex project, an AHOP program partnership could translate into an estimated savings of $50-$90K on the purchase price of each below market housing unit. Combined with AHOP’s second mortgage equity support, AHOP program partnership contributions could help couples with children and other households purchase a home in a missing middle project.

Facilitating the creation of more Missing Middle Housing in Victoria improves the availability of critically lacking housing choices, including three-bedroom homes for young families and homes that support aging in place and accessibility. This will help create more inclusive neighbourhoods and a more inclusive city.

Climate Friendly Cities

In 2020, the South Island Prosperity Partnership and the City of Victoria commissioned a series of reports from The Business of Cities to understand how Victoria and the region measured against peer cities globally. We wanted to understand our strengths, opportunities and threats from a global perspective, coming out of the pandemic.

In the report, “Global Benchmarking: Putting Greater Victoria’s Economy in International Perspective,” I was alarmed to read the author’s assessment that, “Greater Victoria’s efforts to preserve natural assets have on the whole been less successful.” The authors note that, “From 2004 to 2018, the proportion of natural land surfaces and tree covered areas declined by around 2%, putting Greater Victoria in the middle of the pack relative to its wider peer group for preservation of natural assets … [this] represents a long-term threat to the region’s resilience to natural and climate change disasters.”

The researchers didn’t map the degradation of natural assets. But we can do that ourselves, driving out of town on Highway 1, where single family homes now stand where forests once did.

Making better use of Victoria’s land base and making more room for more people at more attainable housing prices will slow down deforestation and urban sprawl. Missing Middle Housing is critical to our city and region’s ability to successfully weather climate change.

The author of The Death and Life of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City, doesn’t mince words in his assessment of the negative impact of single family homes on the environment. In an interview he said, With respect to the environment, the development of single-family houses directly consumes an enormous amount of land for suburban or ex-urban style sprawl, disrupting and displacing prior ecologies. By virtue of sprawl, houses also encourage people to drive everywhere, boosting greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, houses generally require more energy to heat and cool than other types of dwelling, further leading to greater greenhouse gas emissions. Just about any way you look at it, single-family houses tend to be bad for the environment.” (The whole interview is definitely worth a read!)

Let me be very clear: this doesn’t mean that people who live in single family homes don’t care about the environment. After my first post on Missing Middle Housing, about the racist and exclusionary history of single family zoning, there were some people who felt I was saying that people who live in single family homes are racist, so it’s worth clarifying here.

What I am saying, however, is that we are at a pivotal moment in the future of the city and in our ability to prepare for the challenges coming our way with climate change. If we know that single family homes are the least energy efficient form of housing, then we should change our zoning rules to make it easier to build more efficient housing types.

Let’s look at the energy use of different building types in more detail, and also the impact of location on energy consumption.

In 2009, in the US the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and U.S. Department of Transportation formed a partnership for Sustainable Communities. A key research paper produced through this partnership examined the energy efficiency of both housing form and housing location – comparing compact, transit-oriented development against conventional suburban development.

The results are striking. They strengthen the case for Missing Middle Housing and also for greater density in regional cores like Victoria, if we are serious about climate mitigation and preparing for a resilient future.

Location Efficiency: Household and Transportation Energy Use by Location Bar Graph

This graph shows clearly that single family attached homes – like rowhouses, houseplexes and townhouses – consume less energy than single family homes. And, when located in transit-oriented, “15-minute neighbourhoods,” the energy savings are even more substantial. In our region, transportation accounts for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions, and buildings generate 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. Missing Middle Housing in Victoria can go some way to addressing these impacts.

Conclusion

After two rounds of in-depth public engagement, the next step in the City’s Missing Middle Housing initiative is for staff to bring a report for Council’s consideration. At that meeting, Council will decide whether or not to hold a public hearing, before making a final decision on Missing Middle zoning. My hope is that even the councillors who may not be fully supportive of the initiative at this time vote to hold a public hearing on the matter, so we can hear from the public on the most important land-use decision a Victoria City Council has made in decades.

We will surely hear lots of stories at the public hearing from people who feel they will lose something if Council proceeds with Missing Middle housing – most notably a fear of losing neighbourhood character. If this is your concern, please read this post. We will also hear from people who will benefit from these changes, and about their fears of being priced out of the city if Council doesn’t adopt Missing Middle zoning.

We will need to consider all of the input. And, we will also need to fulfill our responsibility to think about the long term. We are not only making a decision for now, and for the people in the Council chamber on the evening of the public hearing. We are also making a decision for their children and their grandchildren, a decision for the next 50 years.

 

Clover Point, “The Majority of People Feel the Same Way As I Do,” and The Creatures We Cherish – Mayor’s Sunday Email – February 14 2021

These three photos show differences in accessing the waterfront. The top two photos show current conditions at Clover Point which prioritize people using vehicles, making the space inaccessible and unsafe for people to walk there. The photo on the bottom shows the new balustrade, sidewalk, separated bike lanes, and new angle parking for people to enjoy some of the most spectacular views in the country. These improvements make it safe and accessible for all modes. Photo credit: Ray Straatsma.

Hello everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. In order to ensure you all get answers from me in a timely way, I’m writing you all at once. I want you to know that I’ve read each of your 483 emails! They were mostly about Clover Point so I’m going to focus on that this week. For those of you who signed up for sheltering in parks updates, there is nothing new to report except that we are still on target to get everyone in inside by March 31st and there are emergency indoor shelters open during this cold weather snap.

I’ll start with background information on the Clover Point proposal and address your concerns. Then I’ll look at Clover Point again from a couple of different perspectives, one related to democracy and one related our ecological responsibility. I’d be honoured if you took the time to read the whole post.

I like writing these posts as it’s a way to respond to your thoughts, questions, concerns and ideas and to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible. If you’d like to receive an email each week you can sign up here (top right hand side.)

Clover Point
So many of you have taken the time to share some of your favourite memories at Clover Point. Thanks for doing so! You’ve said that it’s a place of refuge. A good place for car picnics on windy days. A place to share a cup of tea with an elderly parent. To watch the birds. To take in the magnificent view of the strait and mountains, wonderful for sunrises and sunsets, as well as storm watching. You like to eat your lunch there on your break or to get ice cream at the Beacon Hill Drive in and enjoy it in your car. And so many other stories.

One of my Clover Point car moments was years ago when I was going through a break up. You know that point in a break up where it still seems like a good idea to try and see each other even though the break up is definitely happening?! We got burgers from Big Wheel Burger and drove down to Clover Point. I think we were both grateful for the beautiful views while eating our burgers in the car, as it was much easier to look out at the ocean than it was to look at each other. A real solace.

Many of your emails seek to understand why this proposal and why now, what about consultation, and how will we consider accessibility concerns? There are also many of you who have sent passionate emails saying it’s a really good idea to change Clover Point in the way that we’re proposing. I’m not going to take a “side” here, because I think it’s always more complex than sides.  I’m going to talk about the circumstances that the led to this proposal, and about engagement, consultation and accessibility. Then I’ll talk about next steps and where we go from here.

Last year, staff came to Council with a recommendation to replace the old Dallas Road balustrade near Ogden Point as part of the civil and engineering works that were happening in that area because of the sewage project. It was more cost effective to do it at the same time as the sewage project than as a stand alone project in the coming years.

The balustrade replacement project went very well in two ways. First, it was very recently completed – the final touches were installed just a few weeks ago – and it came in under budget. This left approximately $250,000 that could be used to make additional improvements to the waterfront. And second, everyone loved it! We got such positive feedback about the yellow deck chairs, the path for people walking as well as riding bikes, the additional angled parking spots for up close viewing of the ocean.

So with this remaining budget for public realm improvements, and the sewage project still underway at Clover Point, staff turned their minds to a similar approach as they had at the balustrade: what could we do now to improve the public realm in a cost effective way.

To get ideas for Clover Point, staff referred back to previous public consultation on ideas for Clover Point including this 2017 Fairfield Gonzales neighbourhood report that was produced by the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Land Use Committee. Please take the time to read it; the residents put a lot of work and effort in.

Staff consulted this document as well as the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan and the Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan both of which had extensive public engagement. Policy direction in all of these documents points to enhancing pedestrian access to the waterfront.

Drawing on all this information and wanting to capitalize on the opportunity as they had up the road near Ogden Point, staff proposed the new interim treatment at Clover Point which has generated all the buzz this week! The proposed design is exactly that, an interim proposal the can be implemented in time for this summer while we have a longer conversation about the future of Clover Point.

One of the key things that came up in many of your emails this week is concerns that what staff had proposed to keep Clover Point accessible to those with mobility challenges did not go far enough. On Thursday, Council directed staff to report back on February 25th with some different options to address these concerns. Thanks to those of you who have proposed design ideas. I’ve forwarded them to staff.

A few other concerns that some of you raised is how windy it is and not a good place for picnics. Also the kite surfing crowd – a sport which I learned a lot about this week, thank you! – said we need to keep the grassy space open for kites to land. The good thing about an interim treatment and the installation of chairs and picnic tables, etc. is that they are easily moveable as necessary. There was also some concern about food trucks and lots of questions about garbage flying around etc. The food trucks are just an idea. People seem to have enjoyed the food carts that were along Dallas Road last summer, so perhaps maybe they’d also enjoy them at Clover Point from time to time.

The whole point of the proposed project is to try something a bit different down there that will make the place feel more like a park than like a space for cars to park, while keeping it accessible to as many people as possible. Many of you in business will know the Six Sigma PDSA methodology: Plan, Do, Study, Act. It’s an iterative, four-stage problem solving model used for improving a process or carrying out change. And it’s also so that we can learn by doing, not by talking or theorizing or studying. This is the approach we propose to take over the next few years at Clover Point. And all your feedback has been and will be most helpful in this regard!

I’ll post a further update on my blog after the Council meeting on February 25th.

“The majority of people feel the same way I do.”
This is a phrase I’ve heard uttered often this week about Clover Point. And every time Council proposes to take a bold action that changes the status quo, whether it’s bike lanes, reconciliation efforts, sheltering during the pandemic, or this week, Clover Point, I hear the same message, “The majority of people feel the same way I do.”

Those of you who have written to me this week to tell me this have shared a screenshot of the number of “likes” on your Facebook page, or you site the majority of comments in a Facebook Group that you belong to, or point to the number of people in an online media poll where the majority of voluntary respondents have supported your point of view, or note that all the callers on one radio show are saying the same thing.

This approach to difficult issues – asserting that a majority of people hold a particular view based on social media, an online poll, or talk radio – threatens democracy, undermines civic dialogue, and inhibits our collective ability to tackle complex problems.

“The majority of people agree with my point of view,” is a product of the echo chamber of social media where algorithms predict our likes and interests and feed us content that reinforces what we already believe. This documentary, The Social Dilemma, lays this all out really well. In social media land, differences of opinion are trounced on and facts become irrelevant. The most notorious case in point: there are millions of Americans who believe that Donald Trump won the election.

As noted above, we’ve received a number of emails from seniors and people with disabilities this week requesting that Clover Point be left as is so that they can continue to enjoy it. Here are some other emails we’ve also received from seniors and people with disabilities.

From a senior

“Dear  Mayor and Council,

“As an 88 year old resident of Victoria, I want to urge you to keep Clover Point car-free. Clover Point is a unique and much visited part of Victoria. It is  very important to keep it car free  in order to maintain its  natural, unspoiled beauty.  I can enjoy it when I get a ride to that area, and then can walk out to the end of Clover Point, enjoying the  natural sea shore, WITHOUT VEHICLES as part of the view and landscape. When I can no  longer walk I shall sit  in a car parked along the road … I DO NOT NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE TO THE END OF THE POINT TO APPRECIATE THE SPLENDID VIEW!!!

“By the way I am an active citizen who VOTES every chance I get!!”

And from a person with a disability:

“Fully support the proposed changes — I have a toddler and avoid Clover Point. We walk down to Dallas Road and there’s nothing for us at Clover Point. 

“The cars backing in and out, the exhaust, and the fact that the green space is enclosed on all sides by a parking lot makes it unsafe and frankly, super boring. Which is a shame because it’s such an incredible and unique spot!

“I love the city’s new vision and I’d love to see Clover Point made into an actual park.

“I have a disability which among other things means that I can’t drive. Make Clover Point a safe, accessible place and everyone wins. There are tons of other places to park in a storm and look out the window.

“Maybe some wind breaks in the new design would be neat.

“Also, shout out to Councilor Young who first proposed this back in 1994! Wow!”

And if these two emails aren’t evidence of a healthy diversity of opinion even within the most affected groups, the survey conducted this week by the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association is a bit more evidence that there is no strong majority opinion on the topic of Clover Point, one way or another. This survey was open from Tuesday morning to Wednesday afternoon and was completed by 992 people. It is voluntary and non-representative The results show that:

48.0% support the proposal (475 votes)
9.2% somewhat support the proposal (91 votes)
42.8% oppose the proposal (423 votes)

There is this great movement afoot in the United States called, “Make America Purple,” where Democrats and Republicans with strongly held views sit down, one-on-one, and have a conversation. What they’re finding is that they have more in common than what sets them apart. I’ve done this too. Some of you may remember a few years ago when Paul Seal who ran a Facebook page called Victoria BC Today was waging what felt like pretty personal attacks on me online. I invited him to my house for tea. And he came! We found that there were quite a few things we could agree on and also that it felt good for both of us to have a face to face conversation.

So a request from your mayor who loves each of you and this city very much: the next time you’re thinking that the majority of people see something the way you do, or when you’re feeling really strongly about an issue, reach out to someone who thinks differently about it, and invite them to have a conversation. I can guarantee that if we all do this, it will make our city better, and also, it will feel good because being connected with each feels better other than being divided from each other.

What’s our responsibility to the creatures we love?

This is a male Bufflehead duck, a species of duck that is frequently seen at Clover Point. Photo credit: Kim DiPasquale

A final consideration that has been niggling at me all week in the discussion of Clover Point is that few people have talked about the ecological health of the area.

Clover Point is part of the Victoria Habour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Here is a great site, maintained by local bird watchers that lets us know the birds that have been seen recently. This past Friday alone, there were 19 separate species spotted.

Here is what someone who likes to drive down to the point shared this week with respect to nature: “I have witnessed, many a time, Orcas swimming so close you could almost touch them, Humpback’s slapping their large flukes just feet away. I have witnessed Eagles eating their catch on the rocks below as well as many an Otter frolicking on the rocks as well. I hear the sea lions barking and watch them swim by and occasionally jump out of the water.” 

In 1956, according to Beacon Hill Park history, which cites a Daily Colonist article, “A circular drive with an oiled surface will be completed around the point.” Since 1956 storm water runoff from vehicles has been going directly into the habitat of the wildlife we all cherish. This article in the International Journal of Urban Sciences outlines the negative impact of heavy metals released from from car exhaust, worn tires and engine parts, as part of storm water runoff. In addition to heavy metals, the most common storm water pollutants from vehicles include oils and grease, and sediments from construction vehicles.

For years we pumped raw sewage right into the ocean off of Clover Point. As of December 2020, we are no longer doing so; we now have a sewage treatment system in place that aligns with the values of our community in the 21st century. I know that staff and Council will come to a solution for Clover Point that addresses the needs of people with disabilities and senior’s with accessibility challenges to have access to the water.

But for the rest of us, it’s time for the days of driving right up to the ocean to come to an end. I know this will feel like a loss to many people. But by letting go of this practice and by thinking of something much, much bigger than ourselves, there is also a lot to be gained.

Almost post script: On Saturday morning, after shoveling the sidewalk and checking in with the people running the emergency cold weather sheltering sites, I got back into bed with a cup of coffee. I was staring out the window, reflecting on how little was said about protecting nature at Clover Point this past week, and this Alice Walker poem popped into my head from her book called, Her Blue Body Everything We Know. This is my Sunday offering to you all.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

We Have A Beautiful Mother

We have a beautiful
mother
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes
hills.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her oceans
are wombs
Her wombs
oceans.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
grasses
her plentiful
hair.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her green lap
immense
Her brown embrace
eternal
Her blue body
everything
we know.