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A raucous hearing—and generational divide—as Victoria City Council listens on Missing Middle initiative

The housing plan spells promise for some and raises fears for others—a division that was notably decided along generational lines

By Jimmy Thomson
August 5, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

A raucous hearing—and generational divide—as Victoria City Council listens on Missing Middle initiative

The housing plan spells promise for some and raises fears for others—a division that was notably decided along generational lines

By Jimmy Thomson
Aug 5, 2022
James MacDonald / Capital Daily
James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

A raucous hearing—and generational divide—as Victoria City Council listens on Missing Middle initiative

The housing plan spells promise for some and raises fears for others—a division that was notably decided along generational lines

By Jimmy Thomson
August 5, 2022
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A raucous hearing—and generational divide—as Victoria City Council listens on Missing Middle initiative
James MacDonald / Capital Daily

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Thursday night marked the first—but not the last—hearing on the controversial Missing Middle Housing Initiative by the City of Victoria. 

The plan is a transformational set of bylaw changes that promise to add new housing forms to the city, a large majority of which is currently zoned only for single-family homes.

Effectively, the proposal would allow owners of a mid-street lot to build more dense housing, up to 6 units, (or, on corner lots, up to 12 townhomes) without going before council for rezoning. That rezoning process, which includes opportunities for residents and councillors to weigh in on the details, takes years, and is blamed for slowing the provision of new housing in the city.

A chart laying out the stipulations of the Missing Middle Housing Initiative. Source: City of Victoria

The proposal has arrived before council for a public hearing following years of public engagement and planning. This is the last step before Victoria City Council has to decide whether to pass it—though the question of whether this current council should make that decision at all was raised many times throughout the evening. 

The hearing started the way it ended: with raucous applause.

The packed room at City Hall burst into unsanctioned applause after the first speaker—Marg Gardiner, president of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association—wrapped up her speech against the proposed initiative. The outburst, and ensuing tension once Mayor Lisa Helps called for order and was booed by the crowd, set the tone for the evening. 

But the concerns contained in Gardiner’s comments also carried through many of the opposing views aired in the hearing: loss of neighbourhood character and heritage homes; the loss of “family housing” in the form of single-family homes; a lack of built-in affordability in the proposal; the loss of greenspace attached to individual lots; and the idea that there has been insufficient consultation with the community. 

“James Bay needs family housing, not great increases in density,” Gardiner said. 

She was followed by a student from UVic, who expressed enthusiastic support: “Myself and most of my friends have given up on the dream of owning a home. This is the reality we live in. We have not however given up on housing with offers more than the bare minimum. … The future of the city rests on the youth, and if you want us to stay we need better options.”

And so it went, in an even split throughout the night.

Arguments in favour of the proposal included the escalating housing crisis and dwindling options, particularly for families; the unfairness of allowing single-family homes to be built with no public input while townhomes and houseplexes languish in long, expensive processes; the climate impacts of the sprawl that’s created when cities don’t densify; and the constant outflow of young people from the city.

Intergenerational tension

The tension between younger and older generations was palpable in the council chambers, with the overwhelming trend among speakers being that younger people spoke in support of the proposal while older speakers opposed it. That tension was raised directly by Helps at one point, when she remarked that she was hearing about harassment directed toward the younger speakers during breaks, and the mayor was again shouted down by an attendee. 

The generational divide was remarked on by speakers on both sides of the proposal.

“If you are of that generation [able to buy a home], you're speaking from a place of privilege,” said 23-year-old Chance McClendon. “You already have equity and you can already pass it down to your children. Most of us will never have that advantage and never have the opportunity to pass it down.”

The notion of generational privilege was dismissed by some speakers opposed to the initiative and the changes it would bring. They argued they had paid high rents in their own youth, and had not expected to buy a home as early as young people do today. 

“It’s not a human right to live in Victoria,” said one speaker, echoed by several others. 

But not all young people supported the motion, while not all older people were against it. 

Jordan Quitzau, 28 (who has announced his candidacy for council, and was the head of a local electoral district association for the People’s Party of Canada during the last federal election), said he was against the proposal because he worried it would favour people moving here over those who already rent in the city. 

“Please think of the renters when you are deciding whether to pass or postpone this motion, because we are relying on you to make the city livable for us,” he said, urging council to fix the lack of rental units first.

Meanwhile Jim Mayer, retired and in his sixties, voiced his strong support for the proposal, focusing on the changing needs of families throughout their lives.

“We can be a diverse and exciting city that welcomes people and families of all ages, and that welcomes people in all professions,” he said, “or we can continue to restrict most of our limited land to the most expensive type of housing, and push families further from jobs, schools, and transit.”

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Matt Dell, president of the South Jubilee Neighbourhood Association (but speaking as an individual—he is also running for council in October), spoke on a theme that came up again and again among middle-aged speakers, the majority of whom sided with the proposal: there are fewer and fewer kids in Victoria, and that growing gap is tied to the unavailability of suitable homes.  

“My son, when he comes home, looks one way down the street, looks the other way down the street—and there’s no kids there,” he said. “There’s not a single other nine-year-old in the entire South Jubilee neighborhood.” 

He stressed that the proposal, should it pass, would be subject to review after two years, at which point the next council could decide to alter or remove it. 

The last speaker of the evening (out of more than 50) was Izzy Adachi, a student who works for the UVic Student Society. In a strident speech in favour of the motion, she castigated the “supposed adults in the room” for failing to act on climate change, labour, and housing: “So here we are on a Thursday summer evening, spending hours in a townhall meeting, organizing to fight over drops in an empty bucket.” 

The room—a different part of the room this time—erupted into applause, and that was the end of the first hearing. 

Hearing to reconvene in September

With far more speakers than there was time to accommodate (plus pre-recorded videos and written comments that also need to be entered into the record), council decided to adjourn the meeting. Council has a summer break until Sept. 1, so the rest can’t be heard until then. 

Because the hearing is technically still “open,” council members aren’t allowed to read any correspondence or have any public or private conversations on the matter until the next hearing. Helps specified that councillors are under special instructions to delete, and not read, any emails that arrive in their inbox on the subject due to the procedural rules of the hearing.

People can, however, still sign up to be heard at the next hearing on Sept. 1, or submit comments directly, by emailing the public hearings inbox—not councillors themselves.

Once councillors have listened to everyone who wishes to be heard, it will be up to them to decide whether to approve the initiative, send it back to staff for more work, or scuttle it altogether. 

The hearing revealed that the only guarantee is—regardless of their decision—council will leave a great many Victorians bitterly disappointed.

—With files from Tori Marlan

Correction at 3:10pm on Aug. 5: Jordan Quitzau was previously referred to as a former PPC candidate. He was the CEO of the Southern Vancouver Island electoral district association during the past election and not a candidate.

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Jimmy Thomson
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