Statement on Homophobic Threats and Cancelling of Family-Friendly Drag Show

Raising the pride flag at City Hall.
Raising the pride flag with from left to right, Pride executive director Deidre Rowland, Pride president Britton Kohn, and city councillors Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Sarah Potts and Stephen Andrew.

In June, Canadians from coast to coast to coast come together to celebrate Pride month. Here in Victoria we do the same. After two years of not being able to gather in person for Pride events and the annual parade, Victorians are keen to come together again to celebrate. On Friday at City Hall we raised the Pride flag to mark the beginning of Pride week in the City of Victoria.

Over the past week, a local coffee shop with deep roots in the community that was to host a family-friendly drag show this weekend was targeted with hateful and homophobic phone calls and threats of violence to people planning to attend the event. The event was cancelled as a result.

On Friday as we gathered as a community to raise the pride flag, I dressed in drag as an act of solidarity to say, and to show, that all forms of love and all forms of gender expression are welcome in our community, and are celebrated.

These threats of violence have no place in our community. Pride month is about celebrating love and the right we all have in a free country like Canada for everyone to love whom they choose, to express their gender how they choose and to feel safe in all places and spaces to do so.

Pride month is about celebrating and honouring diversity, celebrating inclusion and making space in our community for love in all its forms. That is what makes us strong as a community. In these uncertain times, we need to come together as a community and hold each other up, not tear each other apart.

To all 2SLGBTQ+ members of Victoria’s community, and all our allies, know that you are loved, and that that love will always prevail over fear and hate and anger. Happy Pride.

To find out more about this year’s pride events check out the Pride Society website.

Victoria’s Big Housing Moves – Building the Future We Need

Missing Middle Housing forms. The design guidelines ensure that missing middle homes will fit with and complement neighbourhoood character.

This piece was originally printed in the Times Colonist.

Not everyone wants to raise a family in a downtown condo. And, with the cost of single-family dwellings hitting an all-time high, too many families in Victoria can’t afford a $1.4 million starter home. The “missing middle” fills the gap between these two scenarios.

Missing middle housing is ground oriented housing – houseplexes and townhouses – with front doors that open to the street, and backyards that maximize useable green space so kids can play, and families can have their neighbours over for a barbeque.

With its missing middle housing initiative, the City is trying to address an out-of-date planning and zoning process that currently makes it easy to build homes that few people can afford. The missing middle housing initiative will make it as easy to build homes that more people can afford.

Here is an example: On Pembroke Street, across from Central Park, there are two sixplexes under construction that will provide 12 homes likely to sell for $750,000 or $800,000. These homes had to go through a two-year development process with no certainty that they would be approved by Council, and added construction costs due to cost escalation during the approval process. In contrast, on Chandler Street, a single-family home was recently built. This home required no Council approvals and received staff approvals comparatively quickly. It was listed for $2.4 million.

The missing middle proposal would delegate approvals to staff for houseplexes and townhouses – the same way they are currently delegated for single family homes – as long as the proposed new homes fit within design guidelines that ensure compatibility with neighbourhood character.

Making these changes now will help increase the supply of homes available over the next few decades for people we need to attract to and keep in our communities – doctors, nurses, police officers, tradespeople, and others who are essential to our community wellbeing and economy.  

It was reported in the media recently that a doctor planned to relocate to Victoria but couldn’t find a home. VicPD created a hiring incentive of $20,000 to attract officers from other parts of Canada. While there is keen interest from across the country, few have taken up the offer, as they can’t move here because they can’t find suitable housing.

Missing middle housing is not an affordable housing initiative. It should be seen in context of other key housing initiatives the City is working on concurrently to address the full spectrum of housing needs. To solve the housing crisis, we must work at it from all angles and create appropriate housing for people on income assistance, low-income workers, seniors, and working professionals. We must meet people’s housing needs throughout their lifetimes.

That’s why the City recently adopted new legislation to expedite affordable housing projects built by non-profits and co-ops. We streamlined the process and reduced the time, costs and risk to affordable housing providers. This will encourage the development of more deeply affordable housing and new co-ops.

We also recently undertook a villages and corridors planning process. The new plans will increase rental and affordable rental opportunities near neighbourhood centres and along and adjacent to transportation corridors. This initiative has a strong focus on purpose-built rental housing, with incentives for affordable housing. Protecting and increasing the supply of purpose-built rental is a key objective to provide security for renters and prevent displacement.

Taken together, these three big moves address different housing needs in our community and provide opportunities to increase the housing supply in Victoria – for both renters and owners.

Our goal is to increase the supply and diversity of housing, and to improve housing choice.

With all three of these initiatives, city staff have worked hard to challenge themselves, Council and our community to think outside the box, to be creative, and to push the boundaries of provincial legislation. Doing so means we have been able to successfully incorporate the many things we know our community cares about: affordability, accessibility, equity, sustainability, urban design, mobility, and protection of the urban forest.

The City’s recent Housing Needs Assessment made clear that our housing supply is not keeping pace, that there is a large affordability gap for both renters and owners and that our housing options are not meeting the needs of our residents. To have a future that looks different than the projections of our Housing Needs Assessment, we need to take all these actions.

The housing types we build now, and in the future, will influence who can live and work here and how our city grows. In other words, we need to build for the future we want. 

Missing Middle Moving Forward

On Thursday, at a Committee of the Whole meeting, Council voted 5-4 to forward the missing middle initiative to a public hearing before making a decision. This is the first time in ten years that I made notes to introduce a council motion! So I thought I would share them with you all here as a supplement to the post above. You can watch the meeting and find all the staff reports and relevant documents here.

Not enough or flawed consultation

  • We need to be human about this and we need to be honest about it
  • In ten years at the table this is what I’ve observed:
  • Sometimes when people say there was no consultation its that they were just busy in their lives – as many of us are – and they missed information that was out there, until it comes to committee, which is why we have public committee meetings
  • Sometimes when people say there is not enough – or flawed – consultation it means they disagree with the outcome the consultation
  • Some people feel that there has been not enough consultation on this initiative
  • Some people feel that there has been enough consultation and after two years of engagement, just get on with the decision
  • This is why we have a public hearing at the end of the process – so EVERYONE who has now heard about the initiative as it comes to a public committee meeting can join the hearing and have staff clearly explain the initiative to everyone, all at once, and so that everyone can weigh in
  • Let’s not tear our community, council, or staff apart today debating the consultation,
  • Everyone may have different feelings and opinions about the consultation process … [PAUSE]

Housing Crisis

  • But what is not a matter of opinions or feelings, and is a cold, hard fact that everyone can agree on: we are in the middle of the biggest housing crisis our residents have ever faced. It’s a housing affordability crisis AND a housing supply crisis. And it’s a crisis because we haven’t overhauled the city’s residential zoning process, ever, to catch up to the current reality
  • These are the facts.
  • And in a crisis, we have to act.
  • I’m certain that the Missing Middle Housing Initiative is not perfect, and that there will need to be changes over the next few decades as this rolls out
  • But I am convinced of two things, and I hope that a majority of Council members are as well:

First: Economically, we’ve squeezed everything out of these projects that we can:

  • Adaptable units
  • Accessible parking
  • 20% 3 bedrooms
  • Securing right of way for wider sidewalks, street trees or bike lanes
  • Backyards
  • Canopy trees and protection of the urban forest
  • Transportation demand measures like car share and bus passes
  • Contribution to the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund
  • No matter how much more economic analysis we do, or how many more independent consultants we engage to do analysis, the facts will be the same, we can’t squeeze any more out of these homes without turning them into phantom projects that can never be built

Second: We need to send this forward to a public hearing as is – with the tenant protections we’ve now added – and to allow our very keen, intelligent and engaged public to hear from each other before we make a decision.

  • Right now, our inboxes are flooded.
  • We need to take this conversation out of our inboxes and into the public realm so that everyone can hear each other’s stories and circumstances, and so that council can hear them, before we make a final decision
  • There were some members of council who were uncertain about sending the Expedited Affordable Housing proposal forward to a public hearing. But the majority of council decided to do so. And we were all surprised by the stories that people shared that night, and by the overwhelming support for that initiative.
  • We don’t know whether we will be in for a similar surprise with this public hearing or not, but we need to listen, and see what comes forward.
  • Although I don’t want to see this initiative fail at all I’d rather see it fail – or be postponed, or sent back for revisions – after a public hearing than here on the committee floor

A final few wrap up thoughts:

  • When Council makes decisions, we always consult and focus on the most affected stakeholders. This proposal has been to the Renters Advisory Committee and to the Accessibility Working Group. Of the renters who took the survey more were in support of delegated authority than homeowners.
  • And the Accessibility Advisory Committee is the reason that at least one unit in all MM housing needs to be adaptable and have an accessible parking spot
  • The most affected stakeholders are not the people who already own a single family home in Victoria’s traditional neighbourhoods. They will be protected by the design guidelines that will ensure any new buildings are a fit.
  • The most affected people are people like this young woman who wrote to Council:
  • “My husband and I currently live in Fernwood, and have been at our condo for a few years now. We love the city and the neighborhood, but with a baby on the way, and possibly more down the road, we know we will outgrow this condo in the not too distant future. 
  • “I work as a registered nurse at the BC Cancer Agency, and my husband works at the University of Victoria. Even for two working professionals, the dream of owning a single family home seems to be out of reach. We could however, save up and hope to own a townhome or a unit in a multiplex. This would allow us to stay in the community we call home, and raise our family here.
  • Passing this initiative is critical for us, and many, many families in similar situations.”
  • Thousands of others like her will not be able to call Victoria home
  • THESE are some of the people who are also affected by the housing crisis and who will benefit from this initiative, to the benefit of our whole community
  • My closing point – and I really hope that Council and the public will get the analogy that I’m about to make to the climate crisis: how we tackle the housing crisis is a complex issue with a number of solutions
  • You don’t solve the climate crisis by only building bike lanes
  • You also need zero emission buses
  • And Building retrofits
  • And Waste reduction
  • And carbon taxes
  • And so on
  • So too, we don’t solve the housing crisis only by building below market rental units
  • The Missing Middle Housing initiative is not an affordable housing initiative
  • It should be seen in context of other key housing initiatives the City is working on concurrently so we can address the whole spectrum of needs.
  • To solve the housing crisis and the affordability crisis, we have to create appropriate housing for people on income assistance, low-income workers, seniors, and working professionals. We have to meet people’s housing needs throughout their lifetimes.
  • Missing Middle housing alone won’t to that. It can’t do that.
  • That’s why we recently adopted the Expedited Affordable Housing program.
  • It’s why through the villages and corridor planning we’re creating housing opportunity zones and mixed residential zones to create more rental and affordable purpose built rental housing near neighbourhood centres and along and adjacent to transportation corridors.
  • Etc etc
  • Taken together, all of these moves – including missing middle housing  –  address different housing needs in our community
  • Our goal is to increase the supply and diversity of housing, and to improve housing choice.   

One final example about how this all fits together.

  • Chard HAVEN Below Market Affordable Home Ownership at Cook at Yates, financed by BC Housing program (which MMH also eligible for) of the 94 homes that have sold so far, 81 have sold to Victoria renters who will be moving out of their rental units when their new homes are built,
  • That’s 81 units returned to the rental pool
  • Just like addressing the climate crisis means doing more than just building bike lanes, addressing the housing crisis means taking a big picture, long-term, ecosystem based approach
  • MMH taken together along with all of this Council’s other big moves does this. It’s one puzzle piece in a very complex puzzle
  • So let’s send this initiative forward to a public hearing so we can hear from the public, and so they can hear from each other and understand each other’s points of view a bit better before we make a final decision

[PAUSE]

Now I will turn to the seconder

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.

 

Part 1. The Racist and Exclusionary History of Single Family Zoning

The majority of the light yellow areas – which comprise a large portion of the city’s limited land base – are zoned exclusively for single family homes.

NB I have updated this post after receiving feedback from Gordon Price through his blog post in response to mine. He and I come to different conclusions about the history of single family zoning and the current need to replace it with more inclusive zoning.

The City is currently undertaking consultation on a proposal to implement Missing Middle Housing in all neighbourhoods and allow for more inclusive housing forms “as of right”, which means without needing to go through a rezoning process. The Missing Middle Housing initiative is focused on creating 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.

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 to apply for 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.

This past week, the average price of a single family home in Greater Victoria rose to over $1.3 million. Missing middles homes – family homes in houseplexes or town houses – sell for a lot less than a single family home.

There are rallying cries of support for Missing Middle Housing, some rallying cries against, and lots of people with really good questions, concerns and ideas. In a three part blog series, I’ll address these topics:

  1. The Racist and Exclusionary History of Missing Middle Housing (Dec. 5)
  2. Missing Middle Housing, the Displacement of Renters and How Missing Middle Upzoning Alone Won’t Solve the Affordability Crisis (Dec. 19)
  3. Missing Middle Housing, Design Guidelines and the Protection of Neighbourhood Character (Jan. 9)
  4. Missing Middle Housing and More Inclusive, Climate-Friendly Cities for the Future (Feb. 13)

The Racist and Exclusionary History of Single Family Zoning

There are currently many civil society organizations, government agencies, and all levels of government committed to tackling systemic racism and fighting for inclusion. This momentum stems largely from the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd’s death, more concerted efforts at reconciliation after the uncovering of the children’s bodies at residential school sites, and strong reactions against the anti-Asian racism at the beginning of COVID.

The racist and exclusionary origins of single family zoning in North America has been well documented, yet that history doesn’t seem to be well known, and it’s not yet part of the conversation we’re having about Missing Middle Housing and the elimination of single family zoning that the City is proposing. It’s important to understand that the early 20th century artifact of single family zoning – still the main residential zone in all cities in North American, including Victoria – has racist, exclusionary roots. Dismantling single family zoning is yet another way we can address systemic racism.

In 1916, the City of Berkeley, California implemented North America’s first single family zoning in the Elmwood neighbourhood. Although the language of the zoning itself was written without reference to race, the explicit purpose of the bylaw was to keep the neighbourhood white and to exclude Blacks and Asians.

Gordon Price, editor of Vancouver Viewpoint cites Matthew Fleischer, the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial page editor who writes about single family zoning in the Bay Area: “Its intentions were nakedly segregationist. The idea was conceived largely as a tool for white homeowners to eject Asian laundries from an otherwise segregated neighborhood, and to stop a ‘negro dance hall’ from setting up shop on ‘a prominent corner’.”

Other cities in the United States did use racialized langauge in their land use policies, including prohibiting “coloured” people from moving into certain neighbourhoods. This was challenged in a 1917, US Supreme Court case, where the court ruled that racially based zoning was unconstitutional. However, because Berkeley’s single use zone was about the type of housing – one house per lot – rather than explicitly about racial exclusion, cities across the United States began to use single family zoning as a work around.

This article from the Bay Area Sierra Club sums it up well:

“At the time, a half-dozen Mid-Atlantic states had experimented with explicit racial zoning, but were facing legal challenges based on the 14th Amendment. A city, using its regulatory authority, was not supposed to discriminate based on race. 

“Zoning experts helping the City of Berkeley were aware of the challenges, and suggested single-family zoning as a clever work around. It assured that only people who could afford a mortgage would live in the neighborhood. In 1916, that effectively excluded almost all people of color.

“When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1917 that explicit apartheid was unconstitutional, Berkeley’s ordinance became the legal alternative rapidly embraced by the rest of the nation. In 1928, then Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover published a “Zoning Primer” that claimed everyone in America wanted to live in a Berkeley-style single-family zone and chastised cities that were not getting fully with the program.”

The the first municipality to develop a single family zoning bylaw in Canada was the Town of Point Grey (previously a standalone municipality adjacent to Vancouver), in 1922. It appears that the purpose of single family zoning in Canada was similar to the United States: to reserve certain areas of the city for certain people, and to exclude others.

In his article, “What Motivated Vancouver’s First Zoning Codes,” Reilly Wood cites the Town of Point Grey’s Planning Commission Chair who noted, “Such by-laws as these served, in no uncertain way, to implement the ideals held by the residents that their municipality was to be one in which the best type of home could not only be built, but also adequately safeguarded from the encroachments of undesirable types of development … At the present time over ninety per cent, of the municipality is zoned for one-family dwelling districts. Point Grey has no slum district.”

In 1930, when Town of Point Grey, the District of South Vancouver, and the City of Vancouver amalgamated, the same planning principles with the same exclusionary rationale, were used to keep Vancouver as a city of single family homes. From this unfolded single family zoning as the norm in all cities across Canada, where the majority of a city’s land mass is made up of single family zoning. In Victoria, fully 68% of residential land is zoned as single family.

This exclusionary form of zoning remained uncontested for a hundred years until, in 2019, Minneapolis became the first city in North America to dismantle single family zoning. This doesn’t mean that single family homes can’t be built, or that existing single family homes must be demolished. It means that it’s now just as easy to build more inclusive and accessible forms of housing, like houseplexes on previously single family lots.

In February of 2021 Berkeley City Council followed Minneapolis, voting 9-0 to remove single family zoning and right the wrongs of the the past.

In Minneapolis, “Advocates of affordable housing, civil rights, and the environment joined forces with labor unions, tenant activists, the young, and the old, to bring down the invisible but durable wall of government-mandated, single-family zoning.” My great hope is that in Victoria, we can build a similar broad-based coalition to undo the exclusionary legacy our city was built on, and to build a more inclusive city for the future.

NB Please take the time to read this article on Minneapolis process of eliminating single family zoning. The City of Victoria already has in place an Inclusionary Housing Policy, and significant investments in affordable housing through the $120 million Regional Housing First Program. These are two of the programs that Minneapolis brought in in conjunction with the elimination of exclusive single family zoning. In addition, Victoria is alreayd using city-owned land for the purposes of building affordable housing.

Privacy, Loneliness, and Climate Adaptation

Our backyard adjacent to our neighbours.

At just about every land use public hearing I’ve sat through for the last seven years, the issue of privacy comes up. Often neighbours are opposed to new developments because they feel like their privacy will be compromised. Applicants building the housing go to great lengths to stress the “privacy screens” they’ve incorporated into their developments: six foot fences, tall hedges, fast growing trees, frosted glass.

We’ve heard strong support so far for the City’s Missing Middle Housing project – which will replace single family zoning throughout the city with zoning for houseplexes and townhouses. But one argument we’ve heard against is the need to maintain privacy. Some people don’t want new neighbours in two and a half storey townhouses looking into their backyards.

And, one proposed rental apartment building at 1475 Fort Street has been sent back to staff three times because the neighbours nearby don’t want to lose their privacy. The new building would be approximately 30 feet away from their homes.

We are obsessed with the privacy.

Yet we are also so lonely.

An article in the Capital Daily in August, “Isolated in Victoria: Forging Friendships in a City Renowned for Its Chilliness,” shared stories of Victorians struggling with loneliness during the pandemic.

But the phenomena of loneliness predates the pandemic and is a chronic condition of modern western societies. In their 2018 article, “The Growing Problem of Loneliness,” in The Lancet, John T. Cacioppo and Stephanie Cacioppo write, “Imagine a condition that makes a person irritable, depressed, and self-centred, and is associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality. Imagine too that in industrialised countries around a third of people are affected by this condition, with one person in 12 affected severely, and that these proportions are increasing. Income, education, sex, and ethnicity are not protective, and the condition is contagious. The effects of the condition are not attributable to some peculiarity of the character of a subset of individuals, they are a result of the condition affecting ordinary people. Such a condition exists—loneliness.”

The constant demands for the protection of privacy when new buildings are proposed has me wondering why we are so fiercely protecting our privacy even when we are so lonely.

When our new neighbours moved in a few years ago, we brought cookies over as a welcome. It was the first and last time we used their front door. Our backyards are adjacent; there are no privacy screens. We watched Whitney go from crawling to walking, Zoey get really good at ball hockey. We can hear when bedtimes are difficult. They can see right into our kitchen at night.

We built stairs from the slope of their yard down into ours so the kids can get here easily. We’ll be out in the garden working in the summer and then all of a sudden all four of them are over here, kids crawling all over us, adults talking up a storm. Summer dinners at the big picnic table in their yard. During COVID, they became our bubble.

They aren’t exactly our friends. Not really our family. They are our neighbours. And it has become a sacred bond.

Last week Naomi had surgery. At 3am the morning she was supposed to go to the hospital, Zoey woke up throwing up. The chaos unfolded from there. Between sick kids and surgery complications that saw her back in the Emergency Room later that night, our four-person text stream became logistics central. We concluded that with four adults and only two kids, we could work everything out. And we did. Hospital pick ups were arranged. Cookies were baked. Prescriptions were delivered. And when she needed to go back to the ER later that night, she didn’t have to go alone.

We are already together. We were already connected. Dealing with an emergency felt easy.

It seems that even when people aren’t connected, in emergencies, privacy becomes less important. With the recent catastrophic floods in BC, when 1100 people were stuck in Hope, residents opened up their homes and took in perfect strangers to stay the night. The media accounts of these heartfelt stories didn’t talk about people worrying about their privacy, or strangers seeing into their homes. The stories were about generosity, the triumph of the human spirit. They demonstrated our instincts as humans to care for each other.

Why does it take an emergency to throw our privacy out the door? Maybe because it’s only short term and we can bear it for the time being. But I wonder if those full houses in Hope had a sense of connection and belonging, a sense of deeper purpose, that would be missed when the stranded residents left. And I wonder what our communities would be like if we lived every day with the same sense of responsibility and connection as when stranded strangers show up on our doorsteps.

Doing so isn’t only important because it makes us feel less lonely and more connected. It’s also the only way our communities will be resilient in the face of the climate catastrophe that is coming. One of my wise mentors recently said that the most successful climate adaptation will take place in living rooms across the city. With forest fires, heat domes and atmospheric rivers here to stay, it’s probably a good time to take down those privacy screens and invite our neighbours in.

Welcoming Victoria: An Inclusive, Anti-Racist City

To learn more about the process of developing the Welcoming City Strategy and to meet some members of the Welcoming City Task Force, join online this Wednesday October 20th from 5:00-6:30pm for a virtual panel discussion as part of CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. You can register for the Welcoming City session here.

For the past year I’ve been honoured to participate in the City’s Welcoming City Task Force and to work alongside newcomers, people of colour, Black and Indigenous people, agencies that work with and serve them, and with Councillor Dubow as task force co-chair. The task force began in November of 2020 by asking, “What makes Victoria unwelcome?” And we worked together over the next many months to develop a Welcoming City Strategy and Action Plan, which are coming to Council for consideration this Thursday.

Racism makes Victoria unwelcoming to people who are – in increasing numbers – moving here from around the world, and to Indigenous, Black and people of colour who have been here for longer. A survey conducted by the Intercultural Association (ICA) confirms the experiences of the Welcoming City Task Force members and others engaged in the consultation process to develop the Welcoming City Strategy.

The ICA survey found that 71% of who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian or a person of colour personally experienced racism in the past five years in Greater Victoria, either daily, weekly or monthly. And 70% of people who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian or a person of colour feel undervalued, isolated and unsafe in Greater Victoria because of their race or ethnicity.

What can also make Victoria feel unwelcoming is a lack of readily available information on services for newcomers, discrimination when seeking employment or housing, lack of access to and understanding of the legal system, inability to access City services in their first language, fear of calling the police for help, worry about their kids attending school without teachers and other parents having cultural awareness and anti-racism training, lack of access to affordable, culturally appropriate food. And more.

What I experienced as a white settler woman engaged in the Welcoming City Task Force was the extreme warmth and generosity of the task force members and others we engaged over the past year. These are folks who experience systemic discrimination, who are hurt and frustrated by systemic racism. Yet they showed up, shared their painful experiences, trusted us, and trusted the process even though in so many instances trust has been broken and processes have failed them.

To wrap up the engagement process as task force co-chairs, Councillor Dubow and I held a virtual town hall meeting, an open forum to catch any thoughts or ideas that may have been missed in the more structured “Welcoming Standard” workshops (more on that below). Right after the town hall meeting, we had a quick debrief with City staff who were involved in the task force process and attended the town hall meeting.

One veteran staff member who has attended many town halls, public forums and engagement opportunities in their time, remarked on the gratitude and generosity of the participants. The staff member was struck, as was I, that many of the people in attendance who spoke, began their remarks with comments like, “Thank you Councillor Dubow and Mayor Helps for this opportunity.”

Despite the fact that almost all the participants were Black, Indigenous and people of colour, accustomed to experiencing discrimination and racism, generosity and gratitude prevailed. What struck us was the contrast between the Welcoming City Town Hall and others Council has held in the past, where people with race or class privilege attending take for granted that the forum is there for them and sometimes rudely or harshly address council.

The prevalence of racism in Victoria, and the generosity we experienced throughout the Welcoming City process, make me resolute in my commitment to implement the Welcoming City Action Plan and to make Victoria more inclusive, less racist and to achieve Victoria’s Welcoming City vision: a city where newcomers are warmly welcomed and well supported. I anticipate that when the Strategy and Action plan come to Council on Thursday, Council will share this commitment.

Victoria’s Welcoming City work was identified as a priority in Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and was also key action in Victoria 3.0 Recovery, Reinvention, Resilience 2020-2041, the City’s economic action plan. Diversity, inclusion and belonging are key to creating a strong economy for the future.

To develop our Welcoming City approach, we built on the work done by the non-profit Welcoming America, which developed the “Welcoming Standard” in 2009. Since that time, several countries including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United Kingdom joined as members of Welcoming International. The Government of Canada, through the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship joined the network in 2020. The City of Victoria is the first city in Canada to develop a Welcoming City Strategy. The Welcoming Standard is organized according to the following seven categories:

  1. Government Leadership – In welcoming places, local governments implement
    systems, programs, and comprehensive equity, diversity, and anti-racism policies
    that strengthen community efforts and embed inclusion within government
    agencies.
  2. Civic Engagement – Welcoming communities actively ensure that residents,
    including newcomers, fully participate in civic life by increasing access to
    leadership and democratic spaces.
  3. Equitable Access – Welcoming places work to ensure community services and
    opportunities are available to all residents, including newcomers.
  4. Education – Welcoming communities strive for an educational system that
    ensures all students have the support they need to succeed in school and the
    education they need to succeed in the workforce.
  5. Connected Communities – Welcoming communities build connections between
    newcomers and long-term residents by strengthening relationships and
    communicating shared values.
  6. Economic Development – Welcoming communities harness the full potential of
    all residents. Newcomers have the skills and assets to thrive, and economic
    development systems are prepared to leverage new and existing talent.
  7. Safe Communities – Welcoming communities foster trust and build relationships
    between residents, including newcomers, and local law enforcement and safety
    agencies.

Welcoming Standards are community specific roadmaps that provide a guide with community-determined benchmarks to develop stronger, more inclusive communities and bridge the gaps between newcomers and long-time residents. A ‘newcomer’ is defined as a recent immigrant (up to five years in Victoria), refugees, international students, temporary foreign workers, and recent immigrant Canadians relocating to the city. Welcoming cities recognize that communities are healthier, happier, and more productive when newcomers are welcomed and can participate fully in society and the local economy.

Please read the Strategy and Action Plan and share them with others. The work of making Victoria welcoming is work for all of us. And, those of us with race, class and other privilege have a key role to play and key actions to take in making Victoria an inclusive, anti-racist city for everyone and for the future.

Can you invite a newcomer for tea? Can you advocate for anti-racist training in your workplace? Can you ensure your kid’s classroom is welcoming and inclusive of everyone? How can you create time, space and opportunity with and for those who are often marginalized and privilege and centre their voices and experiences? How can you get out of the way when necessary?

To learn more about the process of developing the Welcoming City Strategy and to meet some members of the Welcoming City Task Force, join online this Wednesday October 20th from 5:00-6:30pm for a virtual panel discussion as part of CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. You can register for the Welcoming City session here.

The World is Coming Apart at the Seams, and What We Can Do About It – A Dose of Inspiration

This might be a bit of a heavy read, and it’s a bit rambly about all the challenges we’re facing. But there is some practical inspiration and hope at the end of the post. Feel free to skip right to that section if you don’t want a re-hash of everything that is wrong with the world right now.

It feels as if the world came apart at the seams this summer. I read CBC news every day, both BC and national. I also scan the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. I read for information, but also for the metanarrative – what’s going on in the really big picture? How do all these headlines and stories fit together?

I wonder if others also see how bad things actually are and how all the problems we’re facing as a human society are interconnected, or at the very least related. The climate crisis. The housing crisis. The labour shortage. Worker burnout. Racism and colonialism. And more.

The pandemic and climate change are the most obvious. BC’s State of Emergency finally came to an end after 16 months and then, weeks later, BC was in another State of Emergency because of the wildfires. Is the new normal a State of Emergency? This is a real question.

In the interior, last summer’s tourist season was ravaged by COVID-19. This summer it’s COVID-19 and climate change. And nurses in the interior (and elsewhere) are quitting their jobs because of the stress and continuous state-of-emergency conditions. In Alberta, nurses are being forced to work overtime to deal with a rise in COVID-19 cases. Nurses and doctors are exhausted. Firefighters are exhausted. What if everyone just gets too tired? Who will take care of us then? Who will back fill?

Our population growth via immigration has stalled because of COVID-19, but even when we begin to welcome newcomers again, where will they live? Canada has one of the worst housing supply situations of any OECD country. So even if we let immigrants in by the thousands to fill the massive labour gap that we are facing in many industries and professions, there are no homes for them. There isn’t currently enough housing in the country, province or city for people who are already here.

In Victoria last summer, we also felt the negative effects of COVID-19. Those without homes and living in poverty experienced the giant gaps in the social safety net and ended up living in parks. And we also experienced a lack of tourist travel which had negative impacts on our local businesses.

This summer, tourists are flocking to Victoria rather than to other parts of the province that are too smokey. Our restaurant staff are so stressed as there aren’t enough workers to cover shifts; they’re often working shorthanded, or many are new and being trained all at once. Last year, restaurants had limited capacity because of COVID-19. This year some have limited capacity because of lack of staff; they have to close on certain days or cut hours. Everyone is hiring but no one can find enough workers. Why? Because the workers can’t find housing that is affordable, and, in many cases, they can’t find any housing at all, even if they make a really decent salary.

A friend told me over dinner recently that a few years ago, BC Assessment began to assesses the value of multi-unit residential rental properties differently and that rental buildings are now being valued at the income that they could be earning rather than the income that they are earning.

What this means is that even if a building owner is charging tenants rents that are below market, their buildings are now assessed / valued at how much they would be worth if they were charging market rents. For example, if a building owner has tenants that have lived in a building for a long time and are paying less than what they would if they moved in today, or if a building owner supports a single mom with kids by giving her a break on rent, their buildings are still valued at the maximum rents they are able to charge. They are penalized for providing below-market housing.

How is having a building that is “worth more” a penalty? Because as the assessed value of a building goes up, this means property taxes for that building go up and the below market rents can’t cover the property taxes. My friend tells me that some of his friends – long-time building owners – are putting their buildings on the market because they can’t afford to keep them more affordable.

These buildings are being snapped up by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), the mandate of which is to deliver as high as possible rate of return to their investors. Some of the investors in REITs are public sector pension corps. We want teachers and nurses and city workers to have good pensions; but we also want them to be able to afford housing now.

We also want our small local businesses to survive and thrive coming out of the pandemic. And yet, Amazon is opening a distribution centre near the airport to distribute Amazon goods up and down Vancouver Island. When our small businesses are still struggling.

Housing shortage. Labour shortage. Exhausted workers on the front lines. Housing crisis. Pandemic that looks like it’s here to stay. And climate change wreaking havoc. Something’s going to give. Something is giving. The world is breaking apart at the seams.

What do we do? Do we become bystanders? No. What is my role? As a human? As mayor? It’s exhausting sometimes when every decision that is good for the climate crisis or for the housing crisis feels like a giant fight. Think the Richardson Street bike corridor. Think the proposed rental building at 1475 Fort Street, sent back to staff for a third time rather than moving forward to create new housing.

Is this a blog post or a journal entry?

I thought this morning that maybe it’s a culmination of feelings built up over a few days of summer holiday reflection. It’s the same way I felt sometimes as a teenager – despair that we humans were destroying the planet and no one was really doing anything about it. I rode my bike and took the bus to school and became a vegetarian for a time. I did my best, but it didn’t really matter, because look at how the adults were treating the planet.

Now I’m an adult with an eighteen-year-old in my life who feels much the same was as I did. What are we doing as adults?

We can’t house people. We can’t properly care for people with mental health and substance use challenges; the latter are dying in larger numbers than people are dying of COVID-19. We can’t provide our essential workers with any relief as we lurch from State of Emergency to State of Emergency. We can’t adequately or quickly enough address systemic racism, the ongoing impacts of colonialism and the grief of residential school survivors and the families of those who never came home. We want to save the old growth forests, but we still fly to Mexico for vacation.

All of this while the province literally burns down around us.

Despair. Fear. Disconnection.

But thankfully, this isn’t all.

I’ve spent the last few months reading Margaret Wheatley’s, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. Almost every page has a folded corner. It’s from 2005. I bet her 2017 book, Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, has more recent insight for the even more precarious and uncertain time we are in now.

But still, in Finding Our Way, she shares wisdom that I turn to in despair. Wisdom that offers a path forward through connection, love, and hope-through-shared-action.

There are three elements in the book that give me not only hope, but the ability to see more clearly and to act more deliberately, both as a human and as mayor.

Wheatley says that we need to become better systems thinkers, to “see a system and its web of connections.” How is climate change related to COVID-19 related to the housing crisis related to the worker shortage related to worker burnout related to racism and colonialism related to disconnection?

She suggests when we’re trying to make change, to start small, do something that makes a difference and see who notices. The point is to find the connections in the system that we don’t know are there. Wheately says that when we do something like that – take a small action in the direction we want the world (or our street or community or neighbourhood) to move, people show up, “We didn’t know there was any connection between us, but their response makes the connection clear” (207). We then understand those connections better and can use them to take the next action.

To be better systems thinkers we also need to expect that there will be unintended consequences to the actions we take. We need to be able to identify these quickly, reflect on them, and then to take a different action next time. Systems thinking also requires seeking out different interpretations. “The more interpretations we gather,” Wheatley says, “the easier it is to gain a sense of the whole” (208).

Second, Wheatley says that we need to find less aggressive ways to work through problems. She points out that even how we talk about problem solving is aggressive. We “attack a problem,” “tackle the issue,” “get on top of it,” “wrestle it to the ground,” “take a stab at it” (182).

What she recommends instead is this:

“To step aside from aggressive responses to problem solving requires a little used skill: humility. Humility is a brave act – we have to admit that we don’t have the answer. We need more information, more insight. This kind of humility is rare in competitive, embattled organizations and communities, but it is what we need to find real solutions. One wise educator put it this way: ‘Humility is admitting I don’t know the whole story. Compassion is recognizing that you don’t know it either'” (184).

I think about social media here, how it is a platform for sheer aggression. What would Facebook, Twitter etc be like if – instead of posting with such certainty and then defending positions – people shared what they were grappling with, or struggling to understand. What if social media became a platform for humility and compassion.

The third kernel of wisdom I’ve gleaned and would like to share is probably the most important, and indeed the two approaches above are not possible without it: listening.

Wheatley writes:

“Our natural state is to be together. In this time when we keep moving away from each other, we haven’t lost the need and longing to be in relationship. Everybody has a story. If no one listens we tell it to ourselves and we go mad. In the English language the word for health comes from the same root as the word for whole. We can’t be healthy if we’re not in relationship. And whole is from the same root as holy. Listening moves us closer; it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy” (219).

What she recommends is that we “all play our part in the great healing that needs to happen everywhere.” She asks us to, “think about who you might approach – someone you don’t know, don’t like, or whose manner of living is a mystery to you. What would it take to begin a conversation with that person? Would you be able to ask him or her for an opinion or explanation, and then sit quietly to listen to the answer? Could you keep yourself from arguing or defending or saying anything for a while? Could you encourage the person to just keep telling you his or her version of things, that one side of the story” (221)?

Thinking like a system, approaching problems less aggressively, and listening. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the complex issues we are facing right now. Yet in a time of despair and disconnection, in a summer where it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams, these are three tools that I can use – maybe tools that we can all use – to help stitch the world back together again, creating it anew at the same time. To become more whole, more healthy, more holy.

Council Summer Wrap Up – Housing, Bike Lanes, Sports Fields, and More

New skate parks and bike park too at Topaz. More below!

Thursday was our last Council meeting before a summer recess, and it was a long one! It was probably one of the most exciting days in my almost-decade at the Council table in terms of big moves that lay the ground work for the future. Here’s a synopsis of the key decisions and, where applicable, information about how to get involved in the next steps. Each of these could be its own full blog post, so I’ll just touch on the highlights and provide a link to the Council report for those of you who’d like to read more.

Missing Middle Housing Moves to Broad Public Engagement

I previewed Missing Middle housing in a blog post a few weeks ago, “Housing Supply in Victoria Tipping in the Wrong Direction.” Missing Middle housing is ground-oriented housing (front doors that open out onto the street) that fills a gap between single family homes and condos. Staff recommended to Council that we move ahead with the next steps in rezoning the single family lands in the city – about 45% of the city’s land base – to make room for townhouses and houseplexes.

Staff’s recommendations balances the need for new housing in what are currently single family neighbourhoods, with the preservation of the character of these neighbourhoods that so many of us love. Staff provided draft design guidelines for townhouses and houseplexes that people building these homes will need to follow. Staff also worked hard to balance the preservation and enhancement of green space and the urban forest, with space for parking.

Council endorsed staff’s approach and voted to move forward with the next step, which is wide consultation with the public this fall, before Council gives consideration to zoning bylaws that would increase the density throughout a large portion of the city’s land base. These proposed changes will make it easier for small-scale developers and also for neighbours to come together to pool their properties in land trusts or co-ops.

To read the detailed staff report, the preliminary engagement summary, and to view the proposed design guidelines, head here to item F1. To follow along with next steps on Missing Middle housing and to participate in the consultation this fall, head here and register.

Village and Corridor Planning – Joyful Public Spaces and More Housing Choices

Since the fall of 2019, staff have been working with the communities of Fernwood, North Park, and Hillside Quadra to develop 20-year visions for their neighbourhoods, and to create more housing choices for more people. The engagement to date has produced some pretty inspiring results! Much of the early engagement was done online because of COVID-19. What we found is that while there is still a need for more face-to-face engagement – which will happen this fall – we reached a much wider and more representative group of people by providing online engagement opportunities.

The people who participated shared their visions and aspirations for their neighbourhoods. This includes some pretty awesome ideas for public spaces and placemaking, more inclusive and affordable housing choices, more sustainable mobility options, improvements to parks and green spaces, and more. For those of you who live in Fernwood, North Park or Hillside Quadra, haven’t yet been involved and want to learn more, please take the time to head here, to item E1 and see the ideas that your neighbours have put forward for the future of your neighbourhoods. To those who contributed time, energy and ideas, thank you!

One of the big changes proposed for all three neighbourhoods – and pictured in the map above – is to rezone portions of neighbourhoods along and off corridors, and near village centres to create more diverse housing choices and to incentivize rental and affordable housing through bonus density. For example, if someone builds rental or affordable housing, they will be allowed more density than if they were to build condos. To learn more, please read the staff report which is the first item under E1 here.

If you haven’t had a chance to participate yet, not to worry. With Council’s vote on Thursday to move forward on the next steps, staff will be taking all of the preliminary input and turning it into draft neighbourhood plans for each neighbourhood. These draft plans will form the basis of the next phase of engagement, to take place this fall, where the plans and the ideas generated to date can be assessed, revised and added to. It’s a really exciting opportunity to help shape the future of our city and your neighbourhood. If you’d like to learn more and participate this fall, head here and register.

New Turf Fields and New Bike and Skate Parks at Topaz

In 2018, Council approved the Topaz Park Improvement Plan. Since then, staff have been working with the community to prepare and design the first two big projects – skate and bike parks that will accommodate all skill levels – from beginner to advanced, and two new artificial turf fields to replace the existing ones which are at end of life. As part of both of these projects, accessibility improvements will be made including the addition of accessible parking, accessible access to the sports field, accessible spectator seating, an accessible washroom including an adult change table, and accessible pathways in and around the bike and skate parks.

With Council’s decision on Thursday, staff and the consulting teams can begin the detailed design and then construction. The budgets for these projects ($4.3 million for the turf fields and $3.8 million for the bike and skate parks) have already been approved as part of the 2021 budget. Construction will begin later this year. The bike and skate parks will be open by June 2022 and the new fields by early fall 2022.

It’s exciting to be able to make these investments in sports and recreation. Both projects are much anticipated by a wide range of community members. With skateboarding just having debuted at the Olympics, we expect the new skate park will be well-used by young Victorians who have big aspirations. And, both the bike and skate parks as well as the turf fields contribute to the physical and mental health and well being of our community.

Head here to item F3 to read the reports and see the plans and the engagement summary.

Final Corridors of 32km Bike Network – Approved Unanimously

This is the current status of the build out of the 32km All Ages and Abilities bike network. For more detailed maps and corridor treatments head here.

Since 2016, the City has been building an All Ages and Abilities bike network to make it safe and easy for people who are hesitant to cycle because they don’t feel safe doing so alongside high volumes of fast-moving cars. Recent research undertaken for Victoria found that 85% of people surveyed would consider biking if they had safe routes to do so.

On Thursday, after two rounds of public engagement on James Bay routes, Council approved the construction of safe cycling routes along Government Street, Superior Street and Montreal Street, with a short connector as well from Government along Michigan Street into the AAA facility through Beacon Hill Park. The design of each corridor was given thoughtful consideration by members of the public and staff, and each route was designed taking a ‘complete streets’ approach.

A complete streets approach means improvements for pedestrians, retention of as much on street parking as possible, accommodation of transit buses, etc. It also means that safety considerations and the kind of bike facility that we build depends on the condition of the streets. For example, at the beginning of the Government Street corridor at Humboldt, there are high car traffic volumes as it’s a busy downtown street, so there will be protected bike lanes on either side of the road. By the time Government Street connects with the waterfront pathway at Dallas Road, the proposed treatment is a shared neighbourhood bikeway because traffic volumes on that stretch of Government are less than 1000 cars per day.

Council also approved expedited engagement for protected bikelanes on Gorge Road between Government Street and the Saanich border at Harriet Street. Gorge Road has had a great deal of discussion as a bike route over the years both in the initial network planning in 2016 and through the development of the Burnside Gorge Neighbourhood Plan in 2017. The Gorge Road bike lanes will help to better allocate existing road space, create a more human-scale feeling, include improvements for pedestrians, and will help to knit the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood – which is bisected by many busy roads – together.

The Gorge Road bike corridor is being coordinated with the District of Saanich, which is also building protected bike lanes from Admirals Road to the Victoria border. And, the Gorge Road route is being built in 2022 in anticipation of sewer repairs planned for 2023 which will mean the closure of the Galloping Goose trail for a period of the year. We are building the Gorge Road AAA facility in 2022 so that riders of all ages and abilities will have a safe detour route during the period of the Goose closure.

The final leg of the priority AAA network – Pandora from Cook to Begbie – will be designed in 2022 and built in the first quarter of 2023.

All the AAA projects to date have come in on time and on budget. And best of all, we’re seeing more people than ever before using the network. We learned at the Council meeting Thursday that on some days, the two-way bike lanes on Wharf Street along the harbour are as busy as the Galloping Goose Trail!

Head here to item F1 to read the staff report, see the proposed corridor designs and the engagement summary.

Northern Junk Buildings – Heritage Preservation and Building for the Future

Pictured here are renderings of the ‘Northern Junk’ buildings, two warehouses dating back to the 1860s. The proposed project that Council approved on Thursday evening was 11 years in the making. This was a very controversial project. Victoria has a world-class heritage preservation program and because of it, a large portion of our downtown is intact and well-preserved for the future.

Many of the people who were involved in the creation and stewardship of the City’s award-winning heritage program, were strongly opposed to this proposal, noting that it doesn’t respect the heritage guidelines for Old Town. A key point that they made is that the five-story addition on top of the old warehouses was not subservient to the heritage buildings.

I agree with this assessment. But my vote in favour of the project had wider considerations than only heritage preservation. I do think – from a heritage point of view – that this development has many merits. Many of the character defining features of the buildings will be restored and preserved, including a few of the internal elements. They will be brought back to life and able to be viewed and enjoyed from the street, Reeson Park and the water.

In addition, the redevelopment of this site which has sat vacant for 43 years – almost my whole life – will begin to knit that portion of the harbour front back together and breathe new life into it. The City has recently made improvements to Reeson Park, including installation of a portion of the waterfront walkway. The Northern Junk redevelopment will continue the harbour pathway from Reeson Park and along the waterfront of the old buildings.

On the north side of the buildings is a derelict piece of City-owned land currently serving as a small parking lot. With the certainty of the development going ahead, and with direction from Council, staff could begin work on converting that parking lot into another small waterfront park and continuing the harbour pathway across the City’s property there, linking the public realm of the south and north sides of the Johnson Street Bridge together.

In addition, the proposed development will add 47 rental units to the city. Some of the people who spoke against the development noted that these units won’t be affordable. That’s true. But with a rental vacancy rate hovering around 1% and with a massive labour shortage – in part due to lack of housing, even for people who earn really good wages – I’m very hard pressed to vote against housing.

You can head here to watch Council’s debate and deliberation on Thursday evening (debate starts at 1:32:04) which resulted in a 5-4 vote in favour the project.

“The Beginning of the End of Homelessness in the CRD”

During the pandemic, homelessness was a key issue that we had to work through as a community. On March 17 2020, there were approximately 25-35 people sheltering outside. By the end of April 2020, that number grew to over 400 people. Working hard together, the City, BC Housing, Island Health, the Province, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and so many amazing housing providers, outreach workers, peer support workers and others, helped over 600 people move inside from parks.

To learn from this process about what went well, what didn’t, and what should come next, the City applied for federal funding through the Reaching Home program to undertake an assessment. The report Council received and approved on Thursday is game-changing for addressing homelessness in the City and the region, that is, if everyone involved – from the City to the Province to the homeless serving system as a whole – implements the 28 recommendations.

The power of the report and the recommendations is that they foreground the stories and experiences of people who have experienced homelessness, most of whom moved from the parks indoors during the study period. Their experiences and stories reveal all the gaps in the system that need to be fixed, and point to a need for stronger coordination. They also reveal a keen willingness from, and need for, people experiencing homelessness to have a say in and control over their own journey from homelessness to home.

The goal that we have collectively set now – coming out of the successes and challenges of the pandemic – is to achieve what’s called “functional zero homelessness.” Functional zero is a concrete and measurable approach to ending homelessness; it means that there are enough, or even more homeless-serving services and resources than needed to meet the needs of individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness has already developed a work plan to implement the recommendations. We want to keep up the momentum gained during the pandemic. And we want to work to ensure that everyone in the region has a safe, secure, affordable place to call home, with the help, support and the community they need.

For those interested, I strongly recommend reading the full report. Head here, to item D2.

Clover Point 2.0, Accessibility, Confronting Reality, and The Future We Need

Dave Obee’s Times Colonist editorial on Friday, “Clover Point redesign ‘fixes’ what wasn’t broken,” really got under my skin. So I thought I’d go down to Clover Point on Saturday afternoon, watch the world go by for a little while, and start this blog post.

What I saw were people of all ages and abilities using the space freed up by closing half the loop to cars. There were seniors strolling. Really little kids on bikes. A couple – one in a chair, one on foot – rolling and walking down to the waters’ edge together. And best of all, behind the table I was sitting at, a large family was having a picnic at one of the many accessible picnic tables; when I turned around and got up to leave, one of the kids was rolling freely in her motorized wheelchair in the space previously reserved for cars, with her sister chasing after her. Where else in the city does she have such a big space to roll so freely?

There are two problems with the Clover Point redesign. One is the COVID-19 supply chain issues that are holding up delivery of some of the new furniture meant to spruce up the old road. The second is that Council compromised on staff’s original bold vision for the space, which proposed play features and place-making elements and closing the entire loop to cars. Instead, we tried to make everyone happy by reserving some spaces for people to park and the rest for people to walk, roll, and sit.

The result – at least at this interim point – does feel very much like a used-to-be parking lot with picnic tables and benches where people used to park their cars.

But what really troubles me are two bigger issues. First, Obee says that Council has “no regard for those who do not meet their able bodied ideal” and that  “the old and the infirm don’t fit with the city as the politicians want it to be.” Missing from his assessment is that fact that the City of Victoria recently adopted both an Accessibility Framework and a Senior’s Action Plan. These key policy documents were created with guidance from the Accessibility Working Group and the Senior’s Task Force, respectively – people with lived experience.

Council developed these policies precisely because cities in the 20th century were built for able bodied people. Think about the hydro poles in the middle of sidewalks, the lack of curb cuts in appropriate places, missing sidewalks on some neighbourhood streets, not enough accessible parking spots or even policies to ensure these, few benches along greenways or key pedestrian routes for seniors to stop and rest. The Accessibility Framework and the Senior’s strategy combined are meant to make the city more accessible, and inclusive of everyone.

That’s one of the reasons why at Clover Point all the new picnic tables are accessible – people who use wheelchairs can roll right up. And it’s why we’ve reserved so many parking spots for people with accessibility challenges, at the same time as making one whole side of the point accessible and safer for a wider range of people. Obee’s piece puts Council’s Clover Point decision in a vacuum and doesn’t recognize that Victoria is one of the few mid-sized cities in the country with both an Accessibility Framework and a Senior’s strategy and that we’re working hard to address these important issues.

But what troubles me most is Obee’s assertion that, “The decision made there does reflect a troubling tendency among councillors to ignore reality when drawing their castles in the air.”

Ignoring reality.

The province is burning all around us. In one week alone during the June heat dome, 815 people in this province died suddenly. This is just under half the number of people in B.C. who have died of COVID-19 so far during the 17 months of the pandemic. In one week.

Ignoring reality.

The reality is, that in addition to overhauling cities to make them more inclusive of seniors, young kids, and people with accessibility challenges, we need to overhaul cities to address climate change. That is the reality that Council has been tackling head on since 2014, controversial decision after controversial decision – from the now-very-popular bike network to the now widely-heralded plastic bag ban, and more.

Climate change means that we need to create less carbon intensive ways to live in cities. Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan shows that we need to retrofit our homes and offices (buildings = 50% of Victoria’s emissions), rethink how we deal with our waste (10% of Victoria’s emissions), and how we move around cities (transportation = 40% of our community’s emissions).

Obee laments that Clover Point is no longer “a perfect spot to park and admire the sunset or the weather.” According to recent research in the United States, most building codes prioritize cars. For every car in a city, there are approximately eight parking spots. Parking requirements mean that our doctor’s offices, our grocery stores, our homes, our banks, etc. all must have a certain number of parking spots. Eight parking spaces on average for each car in a city. That is a lot of asphalt, creating heat-island effects on hot days. It’s a lot of storm water runoff. It’s also a lot of wasted urban space. Which is odd, because the research also shows that, on average, cars are parked in one place for 95% of the day.

Cars aren’t going anywhere in the near future. And people with accessibility challenges and others will still need to own their own cars. But if we want our children and their grandchildren to survive and to thrive, the rest of us are going to have to learn to share. In the future, if we do it well, Modo and Evo and other car-sharing cars will line our neighbourhood streets. Few people will own their own cars, yet everyone will have whatever kind of vehicle they need, whenever then need it.

This will mean that much of the space in our cities, like driveways and parking lots, currently reserved for cars can turn into green spaces, or housing, or gardens, or whatever else our children and their grandchildren need to thrive while tackling the changing climate.

Obee is right, Clover Point was never a parking lot in the truest sense. But it was yet another place in the city reserved exclusively for cars. The changes that Council made at Clover Point are fixing what’s broken. The changes signal that we can’t live as we have for the last few decades if we’re going to have a future as a species.

Perhaps like Obee, I’m putting too narrow a focus on Clover Point. But the point is that the asphalt space there – reserved for cars for decades – and other spaces like it in the city, have to be put to work differently in order to help us all mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. We cannot ignore reality. We must look what’s broken – excessive carbon emissions from buildings, waste and transportation – squarely in the eye. And we must and throw all the energy we can muster into fixing it.

Housing Supply in Victoria is Tipping in the Wrong Direction, and How Giving Away Council’s Power Can Help

These 22 town homes by Aryze, in Fairfield are currently under construction. They took close to three years to get through the approvals process and a total of five and half years from when the land was purchased to when the families will move in.

As she sanitized the knob of my office door, one of the City’s newest employees, who keeps our offices COVID clean said to me when we met recently, “Nice to meet you; thanks for building the city for the future.”

I was so struck by this because this is exactly what we’ve been doing for the last six and a half years. From the bike network, to the Climate Leadership Plan, to Zero Waste Victoria, to the Accessibility Framework, to Victoria 3.0, to the Witness Reconciliation Program and the Reconciliation Dialogues, and more. We’ve moved Victoria from 20th-century approaches to city building and oriented our city towards the 22nd century.

The one exception is housing and land use. There we’re still very much stuck in the 20th century. And we are very close to a tipping point, in the wrong direction. Unless the City and the Province make some bold moves soon, we will be responsible for creating a low-affordability future where the next generations of families and working people will be priced out of the city. We’ll lose artists, creatives, daycare workers, young professionals. We’ll lose our arts and culture scene. All of Victoria’s cherished strengths will be steadily eroded and undermined.

Whether you’re for or against townhouses being allowed in every neighbourhood, or for or against taller buildings downtown and in Harris Green, I imagine no one would willingly work create to this kind of future. So what can we do?

Single Family Dwellings: So few can afford them, so why are they so easy to build?
Currently, the City’s land use policies and procedures make it easier to build a single family home than any other type of dwelling, even though this is the most expensive form of housing that few people can afford.

Want to knock down a single family home and build a bigger one? No problem. This only needs staff – not Council – approval. And it doesn’t take too long to get the permits needed. Want to build a triplex, or houseplex or townhouses – what’s known as “missing middle housing” – on lots that are currently zoned for single family homes?

  1. Start by holding a Community Association Land Use Committee (CALUC) meeting.
  2. Incorporate the feedback you receive at the CALUC meeting into your plans.
  3. Submit your rezoning application and development permit application to the City.
  4. Staff will then review your application, including an interdepartmental review that usually involves both the Parks and Engineering departments.
  5. Then your application will be sent to a Committee of the Whole meeting for review by Council. If you’re lucky, Council accepts the staff recommendation to move the project forward. But Council always has the prerogative to refer the application back to staff to work with the applicant to make changes. If this happens, go back to step 3; if there are substantive changes, go back to step 1 for another CALUC meeting.
  6. If you get past Committee of the Whole, two weeks later the application is voted on at Council. It could get turned back or turned down here.
  7. If it passes at Council, months are usually needed to prepare all the legal agreements required before proceeding to a public hearing.
  8. Once all the legal agreements are prepared, one more trip to Council before heading to public hearing; that’s at a Council meeting where first and second reading of the bylaws are considered. Council could turn down or turn back the proposal at this point too.
  9. After first and second reading of the bylaws, a public hearing date is scheduled and advertised to the public in the newspaper, as is required by provincial legislation.
  10. At the public hearing, the public gets to share their thoughts and concerns about the project. And then, that night, Council makes a decision.

    This whole process can take often take a year, or more.

Unless there are efforts by the developer to rally support for the proposed new housing – which is often seen as suspect by Council and some members of the public – public hearings are usually mostly attended by people who live in single family dwellings nearby the proposed duplex, houseplex or townhouse who are opposed to the new housing. As the Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply and Affordability put it in their recently released report, “Rezoning can be difficult and amplifies the voices of a few rather than the needs of the community at large.”

Figure 10, Opening Doors: Unlocking housing supply for affordability, Expert Panel Report. Mean MLS price by dwelling type – annualized growth rate 2000-2020.

So we’re making it easiest to build the most expensive form of housing, and we’re pricing people out of our city.

Later this month, City staff will be bringing a report on missing middle housing to Council. They will recommend changes that make it much easier to build the kind of housing that people in Victoria need and can afford. I hope staff recommend taking away Council’s ability to vet these proposals, and delegating the entire process to staff. In short, I hope we start to treat duplexes, houseplexes and town houses just as we currently treat single family homes. I can’t think of a logical reason why we wouldn’t at least try this given that so few working people can afford a million dollar home.

Beyond Single Family Homes: What about housing supply in Victoria more generally?
While the Canada-BC Expert Panel was hard at work, so too were City staff. The recently released, “Victoria’s Housing Future,” report looks at current and future housing needs in our city. When staff presented their report to Council and the public a few weeks ago, one of the City’s housing staff and report authors reminded us that, “We’re planning for people, not just to accommodate growth.”

There is a narrative out there in the public that goes something like: “There’s so much construction and building already changing our city. Why should we welcome more people to Victoria and change our city so much that we don’t recognize it, just to accommodate people who don’t live here yet?”

Starkly, what “Victoria’s Housing Future” reveals is that as of 2016 (the most recent census data and five years out of date), we are between 4500 and 6300 homes short for the people who are already living here. Where are all these people now?

This estimated housing gap of between 4500 and 6300 homes for existing residents is based on these factors. It’s likely a conservative estimate of how much catching up is needed. According to “Victoria’s Housing Future”, “Even if 7000 units were added to the market today, we’d likely still feel some of the same pressures we’re already facing.”

To help out our residents who are already living here in overcrowded, or unaffordable housing, and to help employers who can’t keep workers because they can’t afford to live here, Council should not be allowed to turn down any proposal for new homes that fits within the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP), until we close the 7000 unit gap.

Here’s what the OCP says about Land Management and Development:

“Victoria’s Housing Future” also reveals that even if the OCP is built out to meet the housing need anticipated by 2041, we will still be 20-30% under the number of homes projected to be needed. What this means is that we need to revise the OCP to create more “urban residential” land and less “traditional residential.”

OCP Map 2 from Chapter 6 Land Management and Development.

Traditional residential means:

  • Ground-oriented buildings up to two storeys
  • Ground-oriented buildings up to two and one-half storeys may be considered for certain infill housing types
  • Multi-unit buildings up to three storeys, including attached residential and apartments on arterial and secondary arterial roads
  • Houses with front and rear yards oriented to face the street
  • Variable landscaping and street tree planting
  • Small apartments and local retail stores along arterial and secondary arterial roads and at intersections
  • On-street parking and individual driveways

Urban residential means:

  • Attached and detached buildings up to three storeys
  • Low-rise and mid-rise multi-unit buildings up to approximately six storeys
  • Primary doorways facing the street
  • Front yard landscaping, boulevard and street tree planting
  • On-street parking and collective driveway access to rear yard or underground parking

Shifting more of the city’s limited land base from traditional residential to urban residential doesn’t mean drastically changing the character of our neighbourhoods. It means doing more with our limited land base. And, it means doing this in order to meet not only our housing targets but also our climate goals. If we don’t make more room for housing in the city, what will happen is what is happening – more forests will be destroyed to build housing in the suburbs.

What can we do to make sure there is enough room in Victoria for artists, innovators, families, seniors, the next seven generations?
The Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply makes some good recommendations that the Province should implement immediately. Low hanging fruit includes mandating no public hearings for any buildings that fit within a City’s OCP. The panel also recommends that cities update zoning to match their OCPs and delegate development permits to staff. This means that there will be no political decisions and no public input for new housing on a development by development basis, as long as proposed new homes fit with what the OCP envisions.

While it may feel to some that these changes will cut the public out of the process, what they’re meant to do is a open up a more robust and vision-oriented public dialogue that happens as OCPs and design guidelines are developed and as City-initiated rezonings come forward. This kind of big-picture dialogue isn’t happening through the current public hearing process which pits existing neighbours against future neighbours against Council against developers.

Instead, we could ask questions that require us all to think bigger than whether we are for or against a certain proposal, questions like:

  • How might we enhance Victoria’s character and the neighbourhoods we all love at the same time as making room for current and future residents to have the housing they need at every phase and stage of their lives?
  • How might we protect existing older rental buildings and the affordability that comes with them, at the same time as making the most of the limited land base we have in the city?
  • How might we ensure that as our city grows and has more tall buildings as envisioned in the OCP, we also create more public spaces, green spaces, and enhance biodiversity?

It’s in answering these questions together that we’re going to build a more inclusive, resilient city, a city for everyone, and for the future.