Vancouver mayor says missing middle just a start, as critics say plan not bold enough

Click to play video: 'New rules target denser homebuilding in Vancouver'
New rules target denser homebuilding in Vancouver
Vancouver City Council has unanimously passed a motion to allow multiplex builds on lots as well to add units to existing character homes. The Thurs. Sept. 15, 2023 zoning changes approval comes as the city's housing prices continue to sizzle, while the vacancy rate stays low. Emily Lazatin reports. – Sep 15, 2023

Vancouver’s mayor is promising that a move to rezone much of the city of multiplex housing is just a first “piece of the puzzle” in his government’s efforts to deal with the housing crisis.

On Thursday night, Vancouver city council voted unanimously to change zoning and development bylaws to allow more “missing middle” housing that fills the gap between detached homes and apartments.

Under the changes, strata multiplex builders will be able to construct up to four units on a standard residential lot and up to six on a large-sized lot, while rental builders could potentially build up to eight units.

“And we are going to do more, this is just the start,” Mayor Ken Sim told Global News on Friday.

“At the City of Vancouver we are speeding up the permitting process. We want to build a lot more on our transit hubs. There are a lot of big projects that are going on across the city; this is just one more piece of the puzzle.”

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Click to play video: 'Victoria City Council to decide on “Missing Middle” housing plan'
Victoria City Council to decide on “Missing Middle” housing plan

With respect to zoning changes, the motion consolidates nine low-density residential zones into a single new residential inclusive zone with a goal of simplifying regulations.

At Thursday’s presentation, however, staff conceded the initiative would only deliver a few hundred new units per year — far too few to put a serious dent in the city’s affordability woes.

Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program said the initiative doesn’t go far enough to seriously move the needle.

“It’s a small move. It’s basically a one-wheel tricycle with a flat tire,” he told Global News.

“Really this adds maybe an extra unit, maybe two extra units for a larger lot, but the kind of substantive change, in terms of zoning and building around amenities, it’s still missing.”

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Yan said the new builds could come at the cost of already family-sized secondary rental suites in some cases.

The citywide zoning move, he added, gives the city less power to promote development in specific clusters, around existing amenities like schools, parks and transit.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver considers shrinking allowable size of new single-detached homes'
Vancouver considers shrinking allowable size of new single-detached homes

Vancouver Green Party Coun. Pete Fry also argued the plan doesn’t go far enough.

“We’ve got lots of infill, we’ve got dense, smaller lots with a lot of dense housing on it,” he said during Thursday’s meeting.

“I guess that’s what I find is missing in this missing middle definition is the apartments.”

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung, who sits with Sim’s ABC slate that holds a majority on council, acknowledged the plan would not provide a “massive influx of new housing” in the city.

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But she said it was an important tool in diversifying the housing choices available, making more room for families to stay in the city.

“The missing middle is a big move in terms of opening up residential neighbourhoods across the city for multifamily, so they will be allowed everywhere now and that is huge,” she said.

Kirby-Yung also acknowledged the plan was likely to deliver more strata housing than rental, saying “there’s more work to do on delivering on more rental across the city.”

The city’s plan comes ahead of new provincial legislation this fall, which is expected to mandate similar conditions for homes across B.C.

Yan said the devil will be in the details of that plan, arguing there needs to be a consistency of policies across Metro Vancouver if there’s any serious hope of addressing the shortage and affordability of housing.

“It can’t be solved in one or two municipalities,” he said.

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