Victoria council eyes microhousing on Cook Street

The City of Victoria has given the thumbs up for a local organization to take the initial steps to build a microhousing unit on Cook Street.

A rendering of what a microhousing unit could look like on Cook Street. The unit would help house some of the city’s homeless population.

The City of Victoria has given the thumbs up for a local organization to take the initial steps to build a microhousing unit on Cook Street to help house some of the city’s homeless population.

Council recently voted to allow MircoHousing Victoria to apply for a temporary use permit to use the city-owned parking lot at 2582 Cook St. as a site for the possible development of a microhousing complex.

The complex, in the Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood, would be roughly 1,300 square feet and would house six people with a shared living room, kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities. It’s a modular design that can be constructed and deconstructed quickly, and could be built in roughly six weeks.

The idea of microhousing initially sprang up in Seattle as a way to bridge the gap between overnight shelters and the development of permanent affordable housing.

MircoHousing Victoria’s pilot project would cost approximately $150,000, or $25,000 a unit.

Coun. Marianne Alto said MicroHousing Victoria has come up with a “unique gap-filler” to the city’s affordability and homelessness issue.

“I don’t think anyone suspected at the moment that this is the only solution to affordability and homelessness, but it certainly can be one of the solutions,” Alto said.

“These are not isolated shelters, these are homes where you have six people together with individual rooms, shared facilities, but they also share a community and one of the things we’ve learned so well in the last year or so in trying to facilitate more shelter space is to understand part of that journey is not just being isolated, but providing a transitional space.”

MicroHousing Victoria has already reached out to a number of community associations for input, but more public input is necessary before council gives the official go-ahead, said Mayor Lisa Helps.

“We have a real propensity to amplify the negative. So now everyone is going to have images of people packing up their tents at tent city and moving over to this site,” Helps said.

“What if it’s five women who are now living in tents at My Place. They’re stabilized maybe even working. Wouldn’t we want those six women living in this six-person bungalow than in a tent in a gym? That’s what I’m hoping for. That’s what I want.”

Coun. Margaret Lucas was also in favour of the project, but advised MicroHousing Victoria to slow down the process as it could potentially be a model for others to emulate if it’s successful.

Coun. Geoff Young voted against the project, saying the costs are high if the structure will only be there for three years.

“If it is temporary, the costs are very high. We’re supposed to change the sidewalk, provide the hydro and sewer hookup, bring in the buildings, the foundations and I suspect that if you divided out the costs, including what we’re paying, and the other costs, it wouldn’t be cheap housing, it’d be fairly expensive housing,” he said.

“We want to focus on the long-term on getting housing provided by providers who are working with federal and provincial funders. I think we should put our money towards warm, dry temporary shelters.”

The proposal is still in the initial stages. The approval means staff can initiate negotiations to work with MicroHousing Victoria to develop terms of lease of use of the proposed site.