‘Daring’ Eby housing proposal finds approval amongst Victoria politicians

NDP leadership candidate David Eby is promising to make big changes to the way housing is built in BC if he becomes the province’s next premier. His “all hands on deck” approach to tackle the housing crisis, announced Wednesday, includes allowing modest upzoning of single-family home zoning in major cities, legalizing secondary suites across the province and a significant boost in support for non-profit housing development.

“Housing should first and foremost provide homes for people, not profits for investors,” Eby said in a press release. “We’ve made progress by taxing speculation and building thousands of new homes, but across this province I see the desperate need to do much more to bring down the costs of housing.”

The wide-ranging platform—which includes actions aimed at targeting money laundering and tax evasion in the real estate sector and expanding resources for housing for homeless people—includes several proposals targeting housing development and construction at the municipal level.

It proposes allowing single-family homes to be redeveloped into duplexes and triplexes, provided the building footprint remains the same and existing setback and height requirements are met. The provincial government would work with municipalities to reform their housing approval processes and make sure new developments are supported with adequate infrastructure.

The plan contains “big, bold and necessary moves” to address housing affordability and availability from multiple angles, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told Capital Daily.

“The strength of the approach is that it’s comprehensive,” Helps said.

Under Eby, a new provincial housing entity—BC Builds—would work with First Nations, local governments and various housing providers to find land and f help secure financing and quick, simple approvals for multi-family, middle-class housing.

Local governments that agree to work with the province on upzoning in certain neighborhoods would gain “favourable” loan rates, provincial land, and expedited permits in order to make new builds as affordable as possible. To ensure new housing remains affordable over the long term, co-ops, community land trusts and shared ownership models could be prioritized.

“It’s great to see the spirit of partnership and collaboration with local governments,” Helps said. “We are on the front lines of a housing crisis and will be key delivery partners for BC Builds.”

Anjali Appadurai, who is vying against Eby in the NDP leadership race, said his housing plan “contains some welcome changes to begin addressing the crisis” in housing in BC but does not go far enough to make housing truly accessible to all British Columbians.

“[This] housing plan does not acknowledge that the climate and housing crises we face are linked, and they are fueling each other,” Appadurai said in a statement. “We must advance solutions that address multiple problems at once—anything less does not meet the measure of this moment.”

She called for more focus on housing for unhoused and vulnerable people as well as “the half of us who cannot afford our housing costs.”

“The current housing crisis is a symptom of failed economic policies which benefit the very few, while leaving more and more people behind,” Appadurai said.

Carrots and sticks for municipalities

Eby’s platform proposes using the housing needs assessment reports completed by local governments this spring—with required updates every five years—to create minimum standards for housing creation at the municipal level. Municipalities that go above and beyond the requirements would be rewarded with provincial funding for community amenities while those who fall short will have to deal with “provincial intervention to meet growth demands.”

Victoria Councilor Stephen Andrew, currently running to replace Helps, would prefer the province to take a collaborative approach to housing development in the city but is generally supportive of Eby’s proposals.

“I am pleased to see the candidate most likely to be the next BC Premier approaches the housing crisis with such vigor,” Andrew said in a statement. “As long as the principle is to build homes quickly, which this plan certainly appears to prioritize, I and my campaign are favourable.”

Requiring all local governments across BC to meet minimum housing construction quotas or face provincial action “will encourage those municipalities which have not been carrying their weight to get in the game,” Andrew added.

The rate at which Greater Victoria municipalities are currently addressing their identified housing needs varies widely with Langford building more than two and a half times the number of homes required as of 2020-2021 while Oak Bay built 37 per cent in the same period. All but three Greater Victoria municipalities—Central Saanich and Saanich also lay significantly on new housing construction—are more than meeting their housing needs.

Victoria, by this measure, sits quite comfortably with 45% more housing built in 2020-2021 than its housing needs report suggests is required. While the city may currently be ahead of the game, it’s not as far ahead as it could be if the current council had given the Missing Middle Housing Initiative the green light, as three-term Victoria councilor and mayoral hopeful Marianne Alto pointed out.

“I spoke to this during our own civic conversations about missing middle initiative—if we didn’t do it, the province would,” Alto told Capital Daily. “I actually support all of these recommendations. I think they’re doable, they’re achievable and they will actually go some distance…in making sure that we have additional housing for everyone who needs a home in Victoria.”

Council hopeful Jeremy Caradonna believes Eby’s announcement “fundamentally alters the character of the missing middle debate in Victoria” but that the next council will have some work to do to understand the extent of its implications. While he supports certain kinds of upzoning, Caradonna said he’d like to see a provincial strategy to address the displacement of tenants as a result of redevelopment of their homes—a concern that came up repeatedly during the public hearing on Victoria’s missing middle proposal.

Fellow council candidate Gary Beyer thanked Eby for “stepping up” on the housing file. “Now I won’t need to release my video on the issue,” Beyer tweeted.

Eby’s take on missing middle housing is “more modest” than Victoria’s policy would have allowed—a fact Andrew finds encouraging. No blanket rezoning to allow 12-unit townhomes or even six-plexes is envisioned in Eby’s policy and existing height restrictions and setbacks set by municipalities would be respected.

But “it captures much, if not all, of the same goals and practices, and does it on that [provincial] scale,” said Alto.

“It’s bold, it’s precise, it lays out specifics so we know exactly what we’re trying to achieve and what standards the province is going to use to measure that achievement,” she added.

Victoria council did amend the missing middle policy to reduce height allowances and increase the amount of money developers whose projects do not meet affordability requirements would have to pay the city—before ultimately punting the decision on the initiative to the next council.

Now, incoming councilors have an idea of ​​the expectations the provincial government has in mind for them to uphold.

Saanich council candidates will also be staring down the business end of Eby’s proposals. The district—which saw less than half of needed housing built in 2020-21, according to its housing needs assessment—is expected to begin considering its own missing middle housing policy later this year.

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