Victoria’s Missing Middle Housing Initiative
As Canada’s housing market continues to hit record levels, young Victoria families are facing the decision to stay in condominiums and apartments or move elsewhere to be able to purchase a single-family home or townhouse with yard space.
The Victoria Real Estate Board now reports that the average price of a detached house in Victoria is over $1 million. The average price for a townhouse is about $750,000.
“None of my peers can afford to buy a house here, most will leave Victoria when they no longer wish to sacrifice their money to their landlords and would prefer to buy.” – Missing Middle Housing Survey Respondent.
At a time when housing prices and rental rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, being able to own a home with a yard has become a pipe dream for many British Columbian families.
Many Victorians pointed out that technically there are units in the city that they could afford, but that most units within financial reach are far too small for their families, with no access to a yard, and no pets allowed, so they are not able to live a full life.
It’s not just families either, it’s students and seniors who are finding themselves priced out of the market for a good, safe home.
What is Missing Middle Housing?
Missing middle housing is designed to address families and individuals who are being pushed out of the market for a single-family home. Missing middle housing types include townhouses, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. These three to four-storey units are meant to help diversify housing and provide options that extend beyond detached single-family homes or apartments.
What is the Missing Middle Housing Initiative?
The City’s of Victoria’s Strategic Plan (2020-2022) included an action in 2020 to consider a comprehensive amendment to the Zoning Bylaw to permit all “Missing Middle” housing forms as of right without the need for rezoning or development permit.
This would make it much simpler for developers to create low-rise multi-family housing developments as infill in existing neighbourhoods.
Also, rather than demolishing heritage homes to make room for Missing Middle homes, developers would be permitted to build developments designed for slightly higher (gentle) density housing.
This protects heritage homes and potential heritage homes, while also breathing new life into the surrounding neighbourhood with the goal of increasing liveability, affordability, walkability and accessibility to amenities.
In addition, shared and private green space would be prioritized. In other words, the goal would be to create this gentle density while preserving the integrity and characteristics of the neighbourhood.
Where Can Missing Middle Housing Be Built?
The City of Victoria’s Missing Middle Housing Initiative is proposing that these townhomes and “plex” homes be built amongst existing detached housing in established neighbourhoods. The goal is to create ground-oriented housing that can increase housing choices, affordability for those housing choices, walkability scores and overall sustainability. In short, a home that is affordable for the average family, which cuts down on the need to use a vehicle to get around, with plenty of green space and shared garden/yard space.
“We need to allow flexibility with missing middle — and high gentle density, without requiring parking. If we continue to build for cars, we’ll continue to foster car culture. If we build for families, nature and neighbourhoods, we will foster community.” – Survey Respondent
What has Been Done So Far to Encourage Missing Middle Housing?
Victoria’s Housing Strategy is working to provide solutions by widely engaging members of the public from neighbourhoods all around Victoria and the Capitol region. Between March 2020 and May of 2021, the city of Victoria requested feedback via meetings, surveys, workshops and virtual engagement.
The feedback requested has focused on everything from housing preferences to barriers preventing families and individuals from being able to move from a condo or apartment to a single-family home or house plex.
Some of the main findings in the discussions and surveys;
- Parking – Parking space and access to outdoor space were cited as two key reasons for residents wanting a family home or house plex. Proximity to public transportation options was also a key point.
- Housing Affordability – One of the highlights from the initial findings was “prioritizing affordability over luxury design” suggesting that potential owners much prefer the indoor and outdoor living space to fancy finishings and custom features. One respondent said: “Housing should be affordable first, accessible second and life improving third.”
- Rental Options – Another needed solution is the increase in rental housing for seniors and students. Survey respondents suggested that one, two and three-bedroom homes in Missing Middle Housing be prioritized for these groups who are currently struggling to find suitable housing. This could create a spectrum of affordability for both owners and renters.
- Sensitivity to Different Lot Sizes and Variety of Housing – Allow for flexibility to create attached dwelling units, garden suites, secondary suites, townhouses, house plexes and more, with different combinations on the same lot.
- Space for Growing Families – As more people work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also a demand for slightly larger units so that families can have home offices. A few respondents mentioned the difficulty in living in small suites since the pandemic started. As one respondent candidly put it, “Families can’t love in micro spaces!”
What Are Some Main Concerns About Missing Middle Housing?
Along with positive feedback and an eagerness to move forward with this initiative, residents have also expressed concerns, such as:
- Viability – This type of more affordable housing may not be viable for builders and developers. Larger apartment and condominium developments are much more financially sound developments, by sheer volume alone.
- Crowding – May create too much density in primarily single-family neighbourhoods.
- Widespread changes – Some feel that this type of development could alter streetscapes, reduce the feel of a quiet residential community, reduce green space and result in the loss of tree canopies.
- Urgency – In this housing crisis, housing is needed now. Feedback from Victoria residents indicates that renters need access to affordable housing right now, not in five years. The sooner gaps in housing choice and affordability can be addressed, the better. There is also a real urgency for families and residents who feel there is no financially achievable housing option for them within the city, even with well-paying jobs and savings.
- NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) – Residents may oppose any additional development in their existing neighbourhood. Some residents have expressed worries that multi-unit housing types will bring in more renters, more commercial buildings (shops, restaurants, etc.…) and drastically change their quiet residential neighbourhood.
Missing Middle Housing is an Ongoing Debate
With so many pros and cons attached to the Missing Middle Housing Initiative, it’s no wonder that responses are so split.
As pricing in and around Victoria, BC continues to rise with no real end in sight, the City of Victoria is pushing ahead with gathering as much feedback as possible and working to educate existing homeowners on the merits of this gentle density housing strategy.
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