Municipal
Opinion
Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the interpretation of facts and data.

Opinion: Missing Middle or mansions? Why the Missing Middle is good for everyone

A commentary by Homes for Living, a group advocating for housing solutions in Victoria

By Phillip MacKellar
August 3, 2022
Municipal
Opinion
Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the interpretation of facts and data.

Opinion: Missing Middle or mansions? Why the Missing Middle is good for everyone

A commentary by Homes for Living, a group advocating for housing solutions in Victoria

Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily. Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily. Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily
Municipal
Opinion
Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the interpretation of facts and data.

Opinion: Missing Middle or mansions? Why the Missing Middle is good for everyone

A commentary by Homes for Living, a group advocating for housing solutions in Victoria

By Phillip MacKellar
August 3, 2022
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Opinion: Missing Middle or mansions? Why the Missing Middle is good for everyone
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily. Illustration: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

To approve the Missing Middle Housing Initiative or not? That is the question facing the City of Victoria on Thursday night.

The policy in question has been years in the making, but tonight it goes before council one last time in a public hearing. Though it has generated passionate discussion, with firmly held beliefs on multiple sides, the reality is that it will benefit nearly everyone—because Missing Middle will empower builders to do something other than rip down old single-family homes and replace them with mansions. 

Victoria lacks housing diversity and many buyers must choose between single-family homes or condos. There are few options in between, which is why it’s called the “missing middle.” This lack of housing diversity presents many age cohorts with housing challenges. 

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For young couples and families, the upgrade from a condo to a single-family home is often impossible. In July, the average condo sold for approximately $600K, while the average single-family home cost $1.2 million. A $600K jump in value is huge, and clearly too steep for most households to manage. This price gap helps explain why many under 40 leave for Langford, head up island, relocate off island, or make difficult life choices around starting a family and family size.

By contrast, Missing Middle housing types, like townhomes, are much more attainable. The CRD’s average townhome price was $850K in July. Though exchanging the average condo for the average townhome would still result in a larger mortgage, it is more manageable than jumping to a single-family home—an increase of $250K instead of $600K. This means that more Missing Middle housing types will assist young families, working professionals, and move-up buyers.

By retaining younger people, the city’s economy will prosper, economic development will improve, and local entrepreneurship will be reinvigorated. Younger people are more likely to start a business and, even more importantly, the city is facing a labour shortage across sectors. Victoria needs more doctors, nurses, daycare staff, emergency service personnel, and a host of other workers. While some of the labour shortage is cyclical, the city will struggle to fill these essential services without better access to housing over the long term.

The policy will also benefit empty nesters and seniors. Today, many parents are helping adult children purchase a house by taking out a HELOC (home equity line of credit) or other debt. This mortgages their golden years, and adds personal financial risks as inflation and interest rates rise but pensions do not. That added risk may, to some, be preferable to letting their children leave the region—because when adult children leave, seniors are often left to age alone, and miss out on regular visits from family. No one wants to take on debt or see the grandkids only twice a year instead of twice a week, but these are choices many are needing to make. Passing Missing Middle will help provide another option. 

When it comes time to downsize, Missing Middle housing will be there for seniors too. Instead of moving to a condo downtown, those looking to downsize will have smaller homes in their neighbourhood to choose from. This will allow seniors to retain their friend circles, continue their daily routines, and maintain their neighbourhood connections. 

There are other winners too. Taxpayers will gain, because the denser a city becomes, the lower the cost of infrastructure and services paid per household. Approving the Missing Middle may put Victoria first in line to access the federal government’s $4 billion “Housing Accelerator Fund” as well, given the government’s recent signals that it will “incentivize the cities and towns that are stepping up to get more housing built.” 

Citizens concerned by climate change and personal health will benefit from a more walkable, bikeable, and livable city. Moreover, the Missing Middle will reduce the pressure on places like Langford to raze hillsides to put in new suburban housing. 

Renters facing renoviction risks will win too, because renovictions are widespread already—and when they occur the city does not benefit from new supply. This is a lose-lose, whereby one home is ripped down and replaced by a new home. By contrast, the missing middle will add net new housing over time when single family homes are replaced by multiplexes. By passing the Missing Middle, the renoviction risk will slowly recede as new housing supply comes online. Missing Middle fits within a larger housing framework, including the recently passed “Village & Corridors” initiative, which will expand urban villages, and the “Rapid Deployment of Affordable Housing,” which fast-tracks below market and non-profit housing.

Instead of maintaining the status quo whereby old single-family homes are ripped down and replaced with modern mansions, the Missing Middle will empower new build types to house young families, working professionals and seniors. All the while, it will reduce Victoria’s labour crunch, diminish climate impacts, cut taxes paid per capita, and reduce some eviction risks. At the end of the day, the choice is simple: Missing Middle for all, or mansions for a few?

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