It began with a group of Victoria residents caught up in the excitement generated by the unique micro-housing models sprouting up across the United States to help house the homeless.
Coming from all walks of life with an assortment of backgrounds (some in architecture), the group attended a presentation in Victoria that featured a speaker involved with micro-housing projects in Oregon. They left wondering how it could work in their own city.
It didn’t take long before MicroHousing Victoria (MHV) was born in May 2015, and the group embarked upon a series of community consultations to hear the needs and desires of those they might house to help ease the city’s growing housing crisis.
“The Victoria vision is very different than what you see in a lot of models in the U.S.,” said MHV board member Kristina Leach, an experienced architectural specialist. “What we heard when we went out and spoke to the neighbourhood and folks in need of housing is that wasn’t all they were looking for. For one thing, Victoria climate makes the idea of going outside to the bathroom a little tricky.”
Micro-housing is meant to bridge the gap between overnight shelters and the development of permanent affordable housing. The group has since identified 2582 Cook St. in the Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood as a possible site for a temporary multi-unit micro-home that’s capable of accommodating six people.
The unit, which would be roughly 1,300 square-feet, would include a shared living room, kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities. Due to its modular design, the whole house (which is approximately 40 by 45 feet) could be built in about six weeks and deconstructed to change locations in the future.
According to Leach, the micro-housing functions similar to an Atco trailer, but doesn’t look like one since designers can change skins to match the character of homes in the neighbourhood.
The cost of the pilot project would be approximately $150,000 to $250,000 per unit, which would be provided through fundraising. The housing would help a variety of people, such as woman looking for a fresh start after breaking free from abuse or addiction, noted Leach, and residents would pay no more than 30 per cent of their income for rent.
Spanning an area of approximately 2,960 square-feet, the vacant property on Cook Street is currently being used for unpaid parking. Leach can’t think of a better way to make use of the space until the city decides what it should be used for permanently.
“What we’re saying is it’s not okay to leave that land vacant when our community is suffering from a housing crisis that’s expanding in all directions,” said Leach, who’s heard a mainly positive response from the community thus far.
“I’ve gone into so many places and expected a group to oppose us. Once they heard the vision and understand what we’re talking about, I’ve had few negative comments.”
So far city councillors are also on board and endorsed the idea of exploring the concept of micro-housing in the Action Plan for Housing Supports last June. In May, council voted to allow MHV to apply for a temporary use permit to use the land as a possible site. The matter came forward again during a meeting on Thursday.
Coun. Marianne Alto noted the city isn’t anywhere near making a final decision on future use for the lot. Coun. Margaret Lucas was also in favour, noting council has to come to terms that this is likely what they’re going to have to deal with until the housing crisis is addressed.
“We would all like it to be permanent housing, but I’m not sure that we can always get that timely,” she said. “So possibly this is our secondary that we have to use in the short term until the long-term permanent housing is available.”
During the next few months, MHV will be required to go through the process of creating a detailed application for council’s consideration in the fall. One of the hurdles the city will examine is parking and traffic on the busy street.
Leach said the group had hoped to be housing people by the summer, but that’s the nature of the project.
“Once it does get off the ground, I think that this model will actually achieve tremendous success and there’s going to be a huge demand for a lot more of them,” said Leach, noting it’s not a permanent solution but it would relieve some much-needed pressure on the housing crisis.
“What Victoria needs is housing stock and this is housing stock that we can very quickly put on a piece of land without damaging whatever the highest best use of that property might be down the road.”