NOTE: The context for the letter below was my earlier letter to Council supporting the Rapid Deployment of Affordable Housing proposal. Victoria needs affordable housing (housing that costs no more than 30% of median household income). It also needs housing that is attainable by working families – teachers, nurses, government employees and others.
May 4, 2022
Mayor and Council
City of Victoria
Dear Mayor and Councillors,
Re: Villages and Corridors Planning and Missing Middle Housing Initiative
I write regarding Villages and Corridors Planning (VC), and Missing Middle Housing Initiative (MMHI).
As I noted in my earlier letter supporting the City’s Rapid Deployment of Affordable Housing (RDAH) proposal, increasing housing availability and choice within the City of Victoria – where people can live closer to employment, shopping and other destinations – will help to:
- Increase resident access to services and employment opportunities;
- Reduce labour shortages that are impacting businesses and causing shorter hours and closures;
- Enlarge the pool of customers for local small businesses;
- Reduce suburban sprawl, and the resulting clearcutting of forests, pressure on agricultural lands, traffic, pollution, and GHG emissions; and,
- Increase the amount of taxable property in the City, and thereby help support public services and reduce future tax increases for residents and businesses.
In addition to allowing and supporting more public, co-operative, and other forms of non-profit and below-market housing (RDAH), we need to enable housing generally that is attainable for workers, young families and others who are being shut out by the rapid increase in home prices. Victoria is not producing more land, so this will need to be done through creating homes on our existing land base – doing more with what we have.
It has become very clear that the provincial government is considering reducing the ability of municipalities to restrict housing, and requiring municipalities to allow more new housing. Obviously a one-size-fits-all approach is less than ideal, and the province may leave more autonomy in the hands of municipalities that proactively allow more housing. I urge Council to be a leader in enabling more of all types of housing, so that Victoria is well-positioned to retain more autonomy to shape development to fit our unique municipal needs and goals.
I hope to see the City advance and make improvements to VC and MMHI as these initiatives proceed to later stages and implementation (whether the improvements are within these initiatives or in complementary policies).
For example, we urgently need to prevent displacement of more renters – the majority of Victoria residents – into homelessness, core housing need (already affecting over 20% of residents), or needing to leave the City for housing. Displacement is already happening, even without these initiatives that will create more housing, and we need to fill renter protection gaps left by existing policy frameworks of the Province and the City. I urge the City to look at best practices (e.g. Burnaby) and make various adjustments as needed. We don’t need to sacrifice improved housing supply or renter support; we can do both.
The City needs to allow more homes within walking distance of transit stops and other amenities. This will help provide better transportation choices to people who do not own cars, improve transit ridership and revenues, and enable much-needed transit service improvements. This said, it is important that the finalized version of VC not be restricted to just concentrating new homes in narrow strips adjacent to busy roads (heavy motor vehicle traffic has adverse health and wellbeing impacts, particularly for children, seniors, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable community members).
While allowing more housing, Victoria can and should protect urban parks and other greenspaces, expand them, and make them more usable for more people – particularly in areas underserved by such spaces. We also need to make greenspaces around new homes more usable to children and families, which could include more flexibility for owners to allocate sizes and uses of front and back yards, and to reduce or eliminate paved surfaces on their properties.
The City should also allow more flexibility for homeowners who wish to contribute to the supply of more affordable housing, for instance allowing house conversion rules to apply to a wider range of houses, and allowing homeowners to install an extra rental suite (above current allowances) along with the extra space that it requires.
Finally, as I noted in my letter on RDAH, the City can adjust or change course in the future if needed. In the meantime, the City needs to act with the appropriate level of seriousness and urgency to address the housing crisis.
I look forward to seeing the final products of the RDAH, VC and MM initiatives, and to seeing more housing choices, more protection of renters, and a more vibrant, healthy and livable Victoria.
Cc. Karen Hoese – Director of Sustainable Planning and Community Development KHoese@victoria.ca