NDP draws line on 'poison pills' for housing; Eby has no intention of letting cities upset his plans for 'missing middle' construction Vancouver Sun (Print Edition)·Vaughn Palmer CA|August 11, 2023·08:20am Edition: Final·Section: City·Page: A5 When the City of Victoria set out to promote the development of multi-unit housing on singlefamily lots last year, it had no bigger supporter than David Eby. Eby, then the housing minister in the B.C. NDP government, endorsed the "missing middle" policy - so-called because it would encourage the development of a middle form of housing between traditional singlefamily homes and one-size-fitsall condos. Before last year's civic election, he expressed disappointment that Victoria council stalled implementation of the missing middle policy. "The weight of voices who are currently in housing has apparently outweighed the voices of people who would love to live in Victoria but can't," Eby told the CBC. "They're not going to be voters in the October election." Meanwhile, Eby was developing his own missing middle policy in his campaign to succeed John Horgan as NDP leader, vowing to make it easier for homeowners across B.C. to replace single-family homes with several units on the same lot. Eby's version brought a reciprocal endorsement - "big, bold and necessary" - from Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, one of the architects of her city's missing middle plan. "He's going to fast-track things that we find it difficult to do, to build housing" at the municipal level, said Helps, who'd already announced her intention to retire rather than seek a third term. She also had to initiate a motion to defer her own missing middle plan until after the civic election, leaving it to the next council to decide whether to proceed. Come 2023, it all worked out for the plans of both Eby and Helps. Eby - who was acclaimed leader and premier after the NDP brass disqualified his only opponent - named Helps as his special adviser on housing on Jan 26. "I am very pleased that Lisa Helps has agreed to use her years of leadership to help us work on innovative solutions like B.C. Builds," said the premier, referring to his initiative to develop more affordable housing for "middle-income families, individuals and seniors." On the same day, the new Victoria council approved the missing middle plan it inherited from the Helps-led council by six votes to three. The capital city thus became the first B.C. municipality to formally adopt a missing middle plan. However, as Mayor Marianne Alto, the successor to Helps, then noted: "I think it's a very reasonable reflection of where the provincial government is intending to go across the province." Alas for those looking to Victoria as the model of how to proceed in promoting middle-form housing, it has been all downhill from there. Since the policy took effect in March there have been no applications - never mind approvals - to build multi-unit housing on an existing single-unit site. Excuses abound for why this might be the case. A stall in the marketplace. Shortages of workers and supplies. Developers overloaded with existing projects. One decisive factor was identified in a story this week by Katie DeRosa of Postmedia: The city imposed onerous conditions on the size, footprint and character of missing middle projects, making them unaffordable, unworkable or otherwise unbuildable in the view of would-be developers. "Victoria got a lot of nice headlines saying that they legalized fourplexes and townhouses," says Robert Berry, of the pro-density Homes for Living. "The fact is what they legalized are such small buildings located right in the middle of the lot with such finite bylaw limits on the building itself that it's ... still much easier to build a big, expensive mansion - and a profitable mansion at that - than it is to build a fourplex or a sixplex." Berry sees the restrictions as "poison pills," deliberately crafted to kill development. The city also discourages projects that would depart from the "character" of existing neighbourhoods. Developer Luke Mari: "How long are these neighbourhoods going to be servants to how they were built 100 years ago?" Alto accepts that the policy has missed the mark so far. "I don't think it has failed," she said." What I think has happened is we asked too much of a single policy." Council plans to take a second look this fall, aiming to identify changes that will "make it as easy to build multiple homes on a lot as it is to build one." From seeing the capital city as a trailblazer, the Eby government now worries that other municipalities will be tempted to adopt similar poison pills. "I am concerned about that," said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon "because there are some local governments that don't want to participate in making sure we have housing for future generations." The New Democrats were already planning to bring in legislation this fall to expedite approvals of needed housing at the municipal level. Now, says Kahlon, the province will set specific requirements for parking, setback and height "so that we can address the tools that some communities use to put barriers in the way." All by way of ensuring that David Eby's version of a missing middle strategy does not end up missing the mark as well. email@example.com
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