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‘No more slowing down’: How a housing motion hints at how Victoria council members see the next four years

Councillors who voted in favour feel the fall election shows Victorians want bold action on housing and beyond

By Shannon Waters
January 8, 2023
City Hall
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘No more slowing down’: How a housing motion hints at how Victoria council members see the next four years

Councillors who voted in favour feel the fall election shows Victorians want bold action on housing and beyond

Victoria city council chambers. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Victoria city council chambers. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
City Hall
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘No more slowing down’: How a housing motion hints at how Victoria council members see the next four years

Councillors who voted in favour feel the fall election shows Victorians want bold action on housing and beyond

By Shannon Waters
January 8, 2023
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‘No more slowing down’: How a housing motion hints at how Victoria council members see the next four years
Victoria city council chambers. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Victoria’s first council meeting of the year gave voters a glimpse of how the people they elected in the fall are likely to grapple with the big issues facing the city over the next few years.

The meeting was dominated by debate on a housing-focused motion put forward by Couns. Dave Thompson and Krista Loughton, directing staff to investigate and report back on a range of actions the pair believe could spur certain kinds of housing construction.

The discussion is likely to be seen as a seminal moment for the term ahead, as Thompson and Coun. Marg Gardiner noted.

“How we proceed here may define this council over the next four years,” said Gardiner.

Thompson was visibly frustrated by motions to postpone debate or have the proposal rolled into the strategic planning process, which is set to start later this month.

“I do think we're being watched very closely for whether we can make decisions or not,” he said, reminding his colleagues the previous council “was criticized heavily for punting decisions and failing to make decisions specifically related to housing.”

Thompson and Loughton’s proposal is for staff to examine the options and impacts for easing the city’s rules on house conversions, eliminating parking minimums, and allowing multiple suites on a single property among other considerations. Council would then discuss the resulting recommendations and vote on whether to make any bylaw changes.

“This isn't Dave or Krista sitting down with a pen and rewriting our bylaws,” Thompson said. “This is really a motion to have staff go away, conduct analysis, and come back with that analysis and their recommendations.”

He emphasized that the housing crisis in the city is hurting people, a sentiment echoed by Loughton, who highlighted the challenges faced by renters in a market where one-bedrooms are going for $1,800 per month.

“I want to take this opportunity today to speak up for tenants because I understand the extreme stress that people with medium and low and very low incomes are experiencing as rents surge past wages,” Loughton said. “This is a crisis, and we need to make the most impact as quickly as possible.”

Loughton argued the motion would give council an information “jumpstart” as it begins its first strategic planning process.

Alto proposed to push back the timeframe to report back on the motion to the end of February, adding about a month to the timeline, to give staff more time during strategic planning. The amendment was successful.

After more than 90 minutes of debate, the amended motion passed 6-3 with Couns. Gardiner, Stephen Hammond, and Chris Coleman opposed.

Acting with urgency or overstepping?

Gardiner wasted no time in moving to postpone discussion on Thompson and Loughton’s proposal.

“This is an omnibus motion and although it is a laudable attempt to address the housing issues in Victoria, I cannot support it,” she said. Proceeding with the motion would preempt the strategic planning process and divert staff time, she added.

Hammond supported the postponement, agreeing with Gardiner’s characterization of the motion as an omnibus.

“I think it is too much,” he said. “I believe that this makes the Missing Middle seem like a walk in the park and we know that the Missing Middle is not a walk in the park.”

Hammond and Gardiner—both of whom spoke against the Missing Middle housing policy during the public hearing—raised concerns the recommendations staff might make as a result of the motion could end up having negative impacts, if eventually adopted by council.

Their approach did not sit well with Caradonna, who said council has yet to do much about the issues he claimed they were voted in to address.

“We are in a housing crisis and we were all hired by the people of Victoria to take bold action on our three interlocking crises—our climate crisis, our housing crisis, and our homelessness crisis,” he said.

“I'd be frustrated if I was watching a city council meeting, in which we can't even agree to study something.”

Coleman voted against the postponement before tabling his own motion to defer the proposal to the strategic planning process.

Despite appreciating the “passion” behind the motion, Coleman found it premature with the strategic planning process about to begin.

Coleman also raised the possibility that the phrasing of some items in the motion may have a bit of an ideological bent.

“While you say it's only asking staff for information, in fact, it directs staff to a specific perspective on some of those initiatives,” he said. “That may not be the intent, but that is how it can be read.”

The seven-term councillor counselled his colleagues to have some patience as they learn about the processes underpinning local governance, rather than diving into the deep end of the policy pool.

“I have said this before to a number of you—I'm sorry if I bore you with it—but we are now two months into a 48-month term.”

‘No more slowing down’

Urgency in the face of a crisis situation was a consistent refrain from the councillors who supported the motion.

“We are on fire, we need to put the fire out,” Loughton said in response to Coleman’s motion. “Postponing is irresponsible and if you were a low or very low income earner, you may have a different opinion. I apologize for getting fiery, but I am fired up about this.”

Caradonna picked up on Loughton’s incendiary imagery.

“When the house is on fire, you don't stop to consult with the neighbour about putting out the fire,” he said. “So no more slowing down—all we're doing is having people study things anyway.”

Kim also framed her support within her experience as a renter. While she is grateful to live in below-market housing, Kim shared that her current home has mice and their scurrying drove her to spend nights on friend’s couches during the campaign period in a bid to get some solid sleep.

“It gives me respite as a renter—psychologically, mentally, emotionally, you name it—to know that there are folks on council who are wanting to take this seriously,” she said.

The councillors who ran on pro-housing platforms were not shy in expressing their confidence they were elected to do things differently than the previous council—some of whom found taking bold action on housing uncomfortable, according to Thompson.

“They were worried about political calculations around housing and it became an election issue,” he said.

The fall election results sent a strong message to Thompson about what Victorians want from their current crop of elected representatives.“My personal opinion is that the election was pretty clear about housing being a priority,” he said. “A lot of opponents of housing initiatives actually said prior to the election, this is a referendum on housing, thinking that they were going to win a majority of councilors who might be opposed to housing. That's not what happened.”

Article Author's Profile Picture
Shannon Waters
Municipal affairs reporter
contact@capitaldaily.ca

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‘No more slowing down’: How a housing motion hints at how Victoria council members see the next four years
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