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Public hearing delayed on plan for new forms of housing in Victoria

A public hearing into what the city calls its “missing middle” housing program will be put off until late summer, which means it might not be considered before the next election, after council voted Thursday to refer the matter back to its staff for more public input.
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The goal of the missing middle program is to amend bylaws, land-use procedures and official community plans to permit infill, houseplexes and corner townhouses in some neighbourhoods. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A public hearing into what the city calls its “missing middle” housing program will be put off until late summer, which means it might not be considered before the next election, after council voted Thursday to refer the matter back to its staff for more public input.

The goal of the program is to amend bylaws, land-use procedures and official community plans to permit infill, houseplexes and corner townhouses in some neighbourhoods.

On Thursday, most of council sided with Coun. Ben Isitt, who suggested the matter be referred back to staff to convene a public-engagement workshop and report back with the results.

Isitt, who has been pushing to delay the process over recent weeks, has said he would like to see requirements for affordable units included in the more dense housing options the strategy proposes.

The goal of the missing-middle housing program is to increase the number of housing options in Victoria so families can stay in the city, while reducing dependency on cars and ensuring new housing developments suit the character of neighbourhoods and preserve heritage.

Where zoning currently only allows for single-family homes, it would allow duplexes, tri-plexes and four-plexes as well as townhouse projects on assembled land.

Isitt said Thursday the changes are complex and apply to more than three quarters of the city’s land base.

“So I think it’s reasonable for us to ensure the public has had an opportunity, an adequate opportunity, to consider what’s proposed, that there’s been a proper analysis, both by the public and by council, of the potential advantages and disadvantages of the proposed regulatory approach,” he said.

The delay will allow extra time to determine how the program could be refined to optimize affordability and reduce the risk of land speculation, Isitt said.

Siding with Isitt were councillors Geoff Young, Sharmarke Dubow, Stephen Andrew and Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

“I do think it needs more time,” said Thornton-Joe. “I also feel that we need to bring people along with us and support this and celebrate this as a positive initiative.

“I don’t think I want to give people more stress than they already are enduring.”

But Mayor Lisa Helps, who voted against Isitt’s motion, along with councillors Marianne Alto, Jeremy Loveday and Sarah Potts, said the only thing accomplished Thursday was to delay until the next council a strategy that could actually be part of the housing solution.

Helps said there has already been two years of consultation with the public and affected stakeholders and countless hours of city staff looking at the strategy from every angle.

“There’s nothing one more workshop will do,” she said in an interview. “Our staff have done a comprehensive study to bring this forward. So more engagement is not going to bring us anything new. It’s just going to take more time. And while we’re sitting there engaging, the costs of townhouses are going to continue to rise.”

While the impact of the missing middle program isn’t known, Helps said, the result of doing nothing is “massively escalating costs of housing in our city and in our region.”

Helps said the program is not a silver bullet, but part of a suite of initiatives to tackle the housing crisis.

“This is not the affordable-housing initiative, it’s the attainable home ownership initiative,” she said. “The expedited affordable housing and the villages and corridors planning [strategy] is the affordable and the rental-housing initiative.”

Helps said increasing housing costs make it ever more difficult to attract city staff, doctors, teachers, mechanics and professionals to Victoria.

“We could be part of the solution,” she said. “We could help with these problems by getting out of the way so more housing can be built. We need to make it easier to build homes that families who live in our city can afford — it is that simple.”

Helps said it’s unrealistic to expect staff to report back with the results of another engagement workshop, which is yet to be scheduled, before the fall.

“I very much doubt we’ll get to a public hearing on this before the election, which I think is a real disservice to the public,” she said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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