This is the first instalment of a two-part series on Oak Bay’s role in building the missing middle in Greater Victoria.
Legal or illegal, secondary suites in Oak Bay are not going to be enough to bring relief to the housing crisis in Greater Victoria.
Density, in the form of the missing middle, is growing in Greater Victoria, but not in Oak Bay despite a recognition that it’s important. This includes duplexes, multiplexes, low-rise (two-storey) and mid-rise (three- to four-storey) walk-ups, apartments, condos and above all, townhouses.
As the housing crunch continues to tighten across southern B.C., the pressure is mounting to densify.
|Oak Bay's housing framework timeline pushes towards a zoning bylaw review in 2023.(Oakbay.ca)
“Oak Bay has definitely concentrated on single-family homes over the past 50 years, however, what our housing needs report shows us and what we inherently know is that we must diversify the housing types to ensure our community is viable for the future,” said Coun. Hazel Braithwaite.
Oak Bay has a plan, the current housing framework. It starts with the much-anticipated secondary suites study due very soon, which will be a series of options for council to consider.
Then, over the next three years, staff will bring forward reports on infill housing, village area plans and in 2023, a zoning bylaw review.
“Oak Bay is ready for the housing strategy and village plan. People are chomping to get at it and are asking about it, they want to see it this term,” said Coun. Andrew Appleton.
It will all rely on whether council has the will to not only permit diverse housing options but incentivize them, Appleton confirmed.
It hits home for Braithwaite, whose family is facing a similar scenario to many other families in Oak Bay. The area has become too expensive and her daughter – a 31-year-old highly-educated and highly motivated professional who is unable to afford a house in Oak Bay without a similarly successful partner or without parental support, Braithwaite said.
“However, if she had the opportunity of purchasing a townhouse, duplex or triplex it would be so much more attainable,” Braithwaite said.
So why aren’t there more townhouses, duplexes, triplexes and low- or mid-rise buildings in Oak Bay?
“The problem is occurring all over the world, particularly in North America, where for the last half-century there was an assumption that all normal people want to move to the suburbs for automobile-dependent lifestyles,” says Todd Litman, a Fernwood-based urban transit researcher and consultant who is behind Cities for Everyone, which advocates for affordable transportation and housing options.
As a result, zoning codes, policy and attitudes were based on this assumption, and uncoupling them has proved difficult. Look at Oak Bay United Church’s attempt to add market and rent-capped townhomes. Opposition was so fierce, the application never made it in front of council and the church permanently pulled the project last year with a plan to take a break and start over again.
However, the answer in Oak Bay could be a concept known as filtering. With filtering, it doesn’t matter if the new houses are all capped at an affordable rate for people with lower incomes. The point is to introduce enough homes so that the demand lessens.
“We know that if you build medium-priced housing people will move into it. Most of the people moving into those are in lower-priced apartments moving up,” Litman said. “It’s unusual for someone paying $3,000 a month to move into a $2,000 per month new unit. The trend goes from old to new and in most cases frees up a cheaper apartment.”
But the only rental building to come online in the last decade is The Clive, a 16-unit building that doubled the density of what was previously on the same envelope. The Clive was highly contentious but by the end of the process, developer Nicole Roberts said at the time, there were just as many people speaking out in support for the building as there were against it.
“People against it are vocal early on. People who are for it show up at the end, and you have to get to the end,” she said on a podcast with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
When the Oak Bay News reached out to one developer he laughed when asked why he doesn’t build in Oak Bay. Another said it’s a “waste of time,” and a non-starter.
But the demand is there. Aryze has been fielding calls and emails from people interested in the potential townhouse development at 902 Foul Bay Rd. Large and Co. has a waitlist dating back more than three years for The Quest condo proposal for Oak Bay Avenue.
“It’s a reality across the region, the concern about density, the maintenance of ‘neighbourhood character,’ and Oak Bay has historically been a large single-family residential component, and I hear that,” said Appleton, who is confident there is an appetite for more housing.”