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‘The most impact as quickly as possible’: Victoria to consider motion on parking minimums, multi-unit dwellings

Proposed changes would address housing affordability and availability, councillors say

By Shannon Waters
January 3, 2023
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘The most impact as quickly as possible’: Victoria to consider motion on parking minimums, multi-unit dwellings

Proposed changes would address housing affordability and availability, councillors say

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

‘The most impact as quickly as possible’: Victoria to consider motion on parking minimums, multi-unit dwellings

Proposed changes would address housing affordability and availability, councillors say

By Shannon Waters
January 3, 2023
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‘The most impact as quickly as possible’: Victoria to consider motion on parking minimums, multi-unit dwellings
Victoria City Hall. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Should Victoria look at banning minimum parking requirements and allowing both garden and basement suites on the same property? What about making it easier to convert existing homes into multi-unit dwellings?

At its first meeting of 2023, city council is set to consider a motion that, if passed, would see staff examine and report back on a range of policies aimed at streamlining a variety of housing options.

Couns. Dave Thompson and Krista Loughton co-authored the motion, which calls for staff to report back on the practicalities of abandoning parking minimums for most residential properties while boosting other transportation options, broadening the city’s housing conversion regulations and allowing up to three suites—including garden suites and tiny homes—on properties zoned for detached homes and duplexes.

Much of the motion was inspired by conversations with Victoria residents during the election campaign, where housing was a critical issue for many.

“It's really about people who live here and are trying to stay living here,” Thompson said. “When I was talking with people during the campaign, there were an awful lot of people who were saying, ‘We are going to have to leave town.’”

If adopted, the councillors claim the changes could help speed up certain kinds of housing construction while cutting down on construction-related emissions.

“We're just looking at what can we do right now that can make the most impact as quickly as possible,” Loughton told Capital Daily. “To me, it seems like a logical place to start. It’s low-hanging fruit in the midst of a housing crisis.”

More housing, more quickly

Currently, Victoria allows single-family homes and duplexes built before 1984 to be converted into multi-unit dwellings. But there are restrictions on the size and type of lot, as well as what kinds of changes can be made to the existing structure. And the policy is not well known, according to Thompson, who said many residents were keen to discuss housing policy during the election campaign.

“When I mentioned house conversion regulations, almost nobody had heard of them, even though they are something that has been on the books for many decades,” he said.

“The thinking behind our motion is to loosen it up and make it easier for people who have newer houses, people who have houses that are on different types of lots, or are different sizes than those that were originally anticipated [so they] can go ahead and turn their big, empty house into a house that could house three families or something like that—it just seems like a no brainer.”

Changing the regulations could help add density without requiring a property to be redeveloped, reducing the emission profile of new units.

“This is a way to really make the best possible use of what already exists in our neighbourhoods,” Loughton said. “Reusing and upgrading existing buildings is smarter than demolishing and replacing.”

Another issue repeatedly brought up by residents is suite restrictions, Loughton said.

“What I've been hearing from people is a garden suite, if you want to build one in your yard it’s basically minimum $300,000…it's tempting to make that more affordable for people by streamlining the process,” she said.

A renter herself, Loughton believes both policy changes would encourage housing that is likely to be rented out, helping to ease Victoria’s long-standing low vacancy rate.

“This is stuff that people want to provide,” Thompson added. ”If somebody is wanting to provide housing on their own lot, let's figure out how we can get out of the way.”

Abandoning parking minimums might be a less popular policy but Thompson emphasized that changes would only allow the option of forgoing residential parking.

“Some people look at something like this and say, ‘Oh my God, you're not going to allow people to park, and that's totally not what this is about,” Thompson said. “This is about allowing people the choice…if this motion goes ahead and the bylaw gets amended, we're not going to force people to provide parking that they don't need.”

Loughton pointed out that —in areas that are walkable or where transit and other transportation options are accessible—not having a car can be a boon for overall affordability.

“It's a wonderful choice for people because if you don't have to own a car, not only is that good for the environment in decreasing GHGs but it's also good for your bank account,” said Loughton

A broader approach to tackling housing affordability

Thompson and Loughton’s motion also calls for council to adopt the Vancouver Island Housing Leadership Network’s calls for municipal governments to step up on affordable housing and to advocate for other municipalities across the region to do the same.

The network held up Victoria’s Rapid Development of Affordable Housing Resources—which allows affordable housing projects by non-profit, government, or co-op housing organizations to skip the rezoning and public hearing process provided they align with the city’s official community plan—policy as one other municipalities should follow.

The pair are also hoping the city will lend its voice to the municipal chorus calling for the province to crack down on short-term rentals by getting rid of loopholes.

Both Loughton and Thompson acknowledge that none of the changes they are proposing are likely to do much to address housing affordability on their own.

“This is one part of one piece and we need to focus on all the pieces,” Loughton said, referencing the city’s approach to solving the housing puzzle.

Caption: Victoria has multiple policies aimed at solving the housing puzzle. Graphic: City of Victoria

Thompson is keen to see council take action to improve the housing approvals process across the board.

“We need to look at not just approving suitable housing projects but changing the systems so that those approvals can be made easier with continued public input and public consultation, but hopefully a lot quicker,” he said.

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

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