Housing, Affordability, & Development

An Open Response to Richard Brunt, re: Housing, Affordability, and Development

Infographic depicting "Missing Middle Housing" as referenced in my response. 

From: Richard Brunt

I am working with some young people who are using social media to try
and motivate the younger generation to vote. The main issue is housing.

So far, there are no candidates that have outlined specific policies on
how to address the crisis. Lots of people saying they are for housing
affordability but I have been listening to candidates say that for 30
years now in Victoria - and nothing substantive has been done until the
Airbnb regulations.

This has nothing by the way, to do with street people. This is about
regular young people who will never own a property and will spend a huge
percentage of their income on rent forever - possibly eliminating the
chance of ever finding financial security, gaining the freedom to do
something other than work 40 hours a week, or retiring.

If you care to share specific policy, hopefully with more detail than
"we are for housing affordability", I would be very, very interested.

Thank you!


Richard,

Thank you for your email, I am glad to hear of your initiative to get my generation to vote. Millennials and the few years of Generation Z that are now eligible to vote, can be a powerful force for change if they are mobilized to vote.

I am running on a slate with an excellent team of candidates from NewCouncil.ca who all agree with the principles on which the organization was founded. The principle most relevant to your email is our commitment to "an appropriate stock of housing that addresses the needs of existing neighbourhoods" and my personal campaign commitment to "responsible and future-forward city planning."

Tackling the affordability crisis is something at the forefront of mind for many in my generation. I worked as the Director of Communications & Government Relations at the Trust for Sustainable Development and my years there working directly for David Butterfield taught me a great deal about development, sustainability, and urban planning. You are absolutely right about the shockingly disproportionate ratio of lip service to action on this file from our local politicians. As I pointed out in my Letter to the Times Colonist in May, municipal politicians deserve the majority of blame for the situation we now find ourselves in. Too many local politicians have been sitting at the decision-making table for decades, impeding progress by shooting down projects, scaling back proposals and delaying developments. This, along with catering to special interest groups and a vocal minority laid the groundwork for today's housing crisis.

The situation cannot be turned around overnight, but speaking personally, I believe there are several things that can be done at the municipal level to right the ship and start moving in a positive direction. If elected to council, you can hold me to these positions. In fact, I would like to publish this email response to you if you'll permit me to do so. It is an important topic, and one that I am always keen to discuss.

Increasing supply and ensuring an appropriate stock of housing units and balance throughout the full spectrum of housing options is absolutely vital. A major part of that spectrum is not well represented in Victoria, and that's the so-called "Missing Middle" or multi-unit/clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family dwellings. A two-storey townhouse on a single lot doesn't alter the character of a neighbourhood but still contributes to a density increase. Over the years, I have attended many neighbourhood association town halls and city council meetings for the purpose of speaking my mind on development projects and a consistent occurence at every meeting is individuals standing up, proclaiming to be in favour of change and/or density increases, but with the caveat that this specific project is the exception to that position. In some cases that is true and they are people with very legitimate concerns or neighbours who don't feel they were properly consulted. In other cases, they are the textbook definition of a Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) who is resistant to all change near them and has no constructive criticism to offer, only fear-mongering. You start to know who the actual NIMBYs are after attending enough meetings to recognize the folks who seem incapable of ever supporting something, be it a minor application for a neighbour to build a deck or carriage house, or opposition a larger project.

So how do you balance responding to Victoria's growing population, the need to increase housing supply, as well as respecting existing neighbourhoods and those people with legitimate concerns about specific development proposals? For many, the concept of gentle density increases is enough. For others, proper utilization of the city's engagement department to focus on actual outreach and engagement instead of being a PR department would do it. Personally, I support both, but believe we need to go further and take a serious look at zoning reform. The City of Victoria (population 85,792) has nearly 700 zoning codes while the City of Vancouver (population 631,486) has less than 100. This is a result of constant exceptions to the rules, deviations from the Official Community Plan (OCP), and seemingly endless exercises in spot-zoning from the council table. This is bad for homeowners as well as bad for builders. If you overhaul, modernize, and simplify zoning codes and bylaws that provides predictability to both sides. Homeowners want to know that their intimate residential street won't suddenly have a five-storey condo building in the middle of the block when their neighbour sells their property. They should just have to look what the zoning allows for that property for some peace of mind. Zoning an entire street of single family homes to allow for duplexs or townhouses doesn't mean that will suddenly get built, but it does mean the option exists if someone sells and that no developer is having ambitions to build a five-storey mid-rise apartment building there. Developers have the knowledge well in advance of what can be done with a property while homeowners and homebuyers have realistic expectations about the future of the neighbourhood. Of course there will always be special cases and needs for variances or setback changes and whatnot, but reasonable expectations lead to relative predictability and that benefits everyone.

There's one other thing we can do to help increase the supply side of housing and reduce the cost of housing. Once you have more predictability, development applications will take less time and that is less money sunk into any given project before shovels are even in the ground. Economic uncertainty plays a major factor in projects costs and unit pricing when permits and approvals take over a year to process. According to a recent report by the C.D. Howe Institute, fees, zoning regulations, and red tape have added $264,000 to the price of a single-family home in Victoria between 2007 and 2016. Unsurprisingly, that cost is passed straight on to the consumer, thus raising home prices. While a municipal government cannot tackle things like interest rates which also significantly contribute to rising home prices, we can look to reduce some of these extra costs imposed upon builders for the betterment of both sides as well make sure that projects are denied or approved in a timely manner than respects all parties.

I hope this gives you a decent understanding of where I stand on the issues surrounding housing, development, and affordability in Victoria. If you feel I didn't adequately answer your question I am happy to grab a coffee at some point and discuss things further in person.

Cheers,

Andrew Reeve