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View Royal town hall: housing shortage, societal change, government overreach

New provincial housing legislation stirs debate and pushback.

view royal, town hall, housing
Public town hall about new provincial housing legislation attended by about 180 people, Nov 23, 2023 at the Victoria Scottish Community Centre. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Friday November 24, 2023 | VIEW ROYAL, BC [Minor wording updates November 28, 2023]

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Mary P Brooke, Editor & Publisher of Island Social Trends.

Political analysis & local news coverage | by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

Last night the Town of View Royal hosted a public town hall to facilitate push back on BC housing legislation. The name of the meeting, i.e. ‘The Last Public Hearing’, set the tone of resistance to massive changes that provincial legislation will deliver to not only housing in communities but the very interface of municipal councils with their residents.

The meeting emcee was first-term View Royal Mayor Sid Tobias, flanked by five town councillors seated at the front of the room (Damian Kowalewich, Gery Lemon, Alison MacKenzie, Ron Mattson, John Rogers), and a sixth councillor (Don Brown) managing the public microphone.

The Town of View Royal meeting was held at the spacious Victoria Scottish Community Centre on Admirals Road, lightly adorned with some Christmas-season decor. About 180 people attended the full meeting, with more perhaps coming and going through the evening.

view royal, council, town hall, housing
Town of View Royal Councillors listening to the public at a housing legislation town hall on Nov 23, 2023 (from left): Alison MacKenzie, John Rogers, Gery Lemon, Damian Kowalewich, Ron Mattson. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

The public that gathered for this open forum was clearly engaged with the issues, learning about the legislation — particularly Bill 44 and 47 — as they went. There were some information display boards for viewing ahead of the meeting, and some very light refreshments (only tea).

Mayor Tobias presented a brief visual presentation about housing and growth in View Royal (currently a population of about 11,575 — 2021 census, with apparently 650 homes under construction, 153 with permit applications, and 346 with rezoning applications) — including a PowerPoint presentation which replayed throughout the rest of the two-hour meeting as members of the public approached the microphone.

Tobias said that it has “taken generations and deep consultation with the public” to produce View Royal’s housing and community as it is today. He and council — and many who attended last night — are concerned about provincial government ‘overreach’ and losing their democratic rights to guide the structure, tone and process of their community housing and neighbourhood setups.

Mayor and Council listened to the public all evening; other than the mayor’s intro and summary, there were no comments made by council.

Regional turnout:

view royal, mayor, sid tobias
View Royal Mayor Sid Tobias hosted “The Last Public Hearing” town hall on Nov 23, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

For about 90 minutes there were 31 speakers at the microphone, covering a range of views from protesting the new housing legislation to supporting it. Some speakers articulated impacts on young adults trying to get ahead and seniors perhaps being squeezed out of their homes. All speakers were impassioned. Some had notes, others spoke off the cuff and from the heart.

Some were long-time residents of View Royal or the broader region (there were several speakers from Saanich and a few from Langford) and some were newcomers from other countries. One was a former long-time senior government housing staffer.

Attending in the front row was BC United Party housing critic Karin Kirkpatrick. Long-time NDP supporter (and former MLA) Moe Sihota articulated his support for what the current BC government is doing with housing. Apparently local MLA Mitzi Dean (Esquimalt-Metchosin) spoke with Mayor Tobias ahead of the meeting but did not attend. Also attending were District of Highlands councillors Gord Baird and Ann Baird, and Saanich councillor Nathalie Chambers.

Bills 44 and 47:

moe sihota, town hall
Former NDP MLA Moe Sihota at the View Royal town hall on new BC housing legislation, Nov 23, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

The meeting was specifically promoted to discuss Bill 44 which will allow landowners to build three or four units on a single-family lot, as part of boosting housing supply. There was also discussion about Bill 47 which will allow higher-density (and taller buildings) along transit routes. View Royal is sandwiched in and around Highway 1 (Trans Canada) and Highway 14 (called Island Highway in that stretch).

Town staff clearly put a lot of thought and effort into presenting key components of the provincial legislation, for which final passage has yet to happen and which will be followed by more details in the months ahead.

Provincial legislation introduced in the Legislative Assembly this fall has included new directions regarding short-term rentals, multi-density on single-family lots, higher density around transit hubs, and more. So far, 10 municipalities have been issued housing increase targets (as announced in September 2023), three of those in the Greater Victoria area:

  • City of Abbotsford – 7,240 housing units
  • City of Delta – 3,607 housing units
  • City of Kamloops – 4,236 housing units
  • District North Vancouver – 2,838 housing units
  • District of Oak Bay – 664 housing units
  • City of Port Moody – 1,694 housing units
  • District of Saanich – 4,610 housing units
  • City of Vancouver – 28,900 housing units
  • City of Victoria – 4,902 housing units
  • District of West Vancouver – 1,432 housing units
housing, town hall, view royal, audience
Public town hall about new provincial housing legislation attended by about 180 people, Nov 23, 2023 at the Victoria Scottish Community Centre. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Statement by BC Housing Minister:

In response to the public town hall in View Royal last night, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon has provided this statement to Island Social Trends:

“We’ve introduced legislation that will fix outdated zoning rules and deliver more small-scale multi-unit homes for people faster. These changes are part of the Homes for People Action Plan – and will help to create more housing options for people that are within their reach – including town homes, triplexes, and laneway homes – and fit well within the neighbourhoods they love.”

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Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon during debate on Bill 44 in the Legislative Assembly, Nov 20, 2023. [Hansard]

“The changes apply to many communities throughout the province and will permit up to 3-4 units on lots zoned exclusively for single-family or duplex residential – without going through a long zoning process. And on larger lots close to transit stops with frequent service, these changes will permit up to 6 units.”

“The Ministry of Housing consulted widely on these changes – with around 40 local governments of varying sizes, types (regional districts and municipalities) including View Royal, and perspectives from across B.C. Many expressed support for better up-front planning, and fewer rezonings to tackle the housing crisis. As part of this work, we also consulted with UBCM, First Nations and a range of experts and representatives from the development industry and non-profit housing sector.”

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Instant angst:

View Royal was already promoting their town hall on November 7, within hours of the legislation announcement including a letter by View Royal Mayor Sid Tobias to all fellow municipalities.

Councillor Gery Lemon last week told Island Social Trends that “there was no consultation with municipalities and no opportunity for consultation with residents”, adding that View Royal recognizes the need for more housing and that View Royal has already been “doing its bit”. Indeed, at last night’s meeting the mayor said that his council is in favour of housing development, but that resident input to shaping the development of the town is what would be lost through enactment of the new legislation.

“The province didn’t engage with municipalities, it just happened… there was no opportunity for consultation with residents” especially around higher density, Councillor Lemon said last week. At the town hall people had that opportunity, for which View Royal council was thanked by local residents and those from other neighbouring municipalities of the Greater Victoria area.

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View Royal Councillors at ‘The Last Public Hearing’ town hall on Nov 23, 2023 (from left): Gery Lemon, Damian Kowalewich, Ron Mattson. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon has repeated several times in recent weeks that the community can have input during OCP process. The OCP in every municipality will need to be updated every five years now, under legislation introduced this fall.

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Member of the public addressing the housing town hall in View Royal, Nov 23, 2023. [Island Social Trends]

Speaker comments:

Some speakers said the town hall meeting promotion and tone was skewed toward protesting the new housing legislation. But the openness and length of the meeting allowed for a range of views to be heard. In summary, a few:

  • Speaker 1 – The idea of a housing shortage is “nuts”, it’s about affordability.
  • Speaker 2 – “It’s not about housing, it’s about extremely bad governance.” The goals of local governance are being “crushed”. View Royal has been a “star contributor to housing”. The legislation is “unconscionable”.
  • Speaker 3 (Saanich resident) – Important to take a stand on democracy. “You have a lot of support from seniors and young families” here this evening.
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  • Speaker 4 – Seeing a divide on this topic (for and against).
  • Speaker 5 (Langford resident) – Need to meet the challenges of our communities. Need more democracy, not less. Encouraging View Royal council to push harder. Sees the provincial government’s approach as one of “corporate enrichment” while the “working majority gets poorer and poorer”. Need public housing (as distinct from social government-run housing) for growing sections of the working majority
  • Speaker 6 (View Royal resident) – “Try to work with the government.” Increase the volume of housing and how that looks, neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Add housing for families, and rental spaces.
  • Speaker 7 (View Royal resident) – Need better infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists (so that parking demands are less). “Due to climate change, millions of people are coming to Canada to survive; it’s our moral responsibility” (to provide housing, etc). The government is “doing the right thing but in the wrong way”.
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  • Speaker 8 – The provincial legislation “tramples on municipal governments to plan their communities; the province needs to go back to the drawing board; we need a plan to provide affordable housing in our communities.”
  • Speaker 9 (View Royal resident) – concerned.
  • Speaker 10 – “We need more density in housing.”
  • Speaker 11 – Very concerned about infrastructure costs and that View Royal will “get absorbed” into Greater Victoria. Notes that 30 years ago that the federal government “stopped paying for construction of apartment buildings” and they allowed REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) which allowed “monetizing of the real estate market.
  • Speaker 12 – Nathalie Chambers (Saanich Councillor) – “The recommendations from the development community have taken precedence over the voice of the people.” Zoning powers being taken away from municipalities. Urges action against the legislation: “Pretty soon it’s going to be a done deal unless we take major action.”
sooke, ad, firefighters, 2023
  • Speaker 13 (Saanich resident) – Residents of View Royal have chosen a municipal government that respects their views. [Lots of applause]. The provincial government has been captured by UDI (Urban Development Institute) which lobbies in favour of developers. “Get some balls and stand up to this government.” The legislation is “destroying our neighbourhoods”.
  • Speaker 14 (View Royal resident) – Density is good for communities; no one should be priced out of their home. The current situation is due to inaction of local government. Need more consideration of children, renters, people with evening work or study schedules. People are busy and don’t have the luxury of time to be informed. The status quo is not working; multi-unit housing is needed. The town hall and it’s online survey are slanted against the legislation; not trusting the results will accurately reflect public opinion. “Not all residents support your (View Royal) position.”
  • Speaker 15 (environmental advocate) – Says the ‘development lobby’ (through UDI) pushed for this direction in the provincial housing legislation. Notes that View Royal council voted to leave the UDI development lobby (which is “an attack on our democracy”).
  • Speaker 16 (View Royal resident) – As a long-time resident, says it’s important to make housing/community “more affordable for generations coming after us”. Notes that the younger generation is “working to live to support us as we age out of the workforce”.
  • Speaker 17 (newcomer to Canada in 2016) – “More choice is a good idea. Young people need more houses.”
  • Speaker 18 (Saanich resident) – Notes that View Royal was “the first to respond to this legislation” (as in not being in favour of it); Saanich is in favour of the legislation. A speculative housing scenario is “not providing houses”; the current setup is allowing monetization of homes, prices go up without limit. Non-market housing is needed (public housing, co-ops). Notes “massive deforestation of our city” which “changes the nature of the environment”.
  • Speaker 19 (View Royal resident) – Concerned about costs of sewer lift, schools, fire department (insurance impacts for homeowners).
  • Speaker 20 (Saanich resident) – Lack of industrial land for small business base (in Saanich). Encouraged people to move to other parts of BC for more land availability.
town hall, view royal, woman
Member of the public addressing the housing town hall in View Royal, Nov 23, 2023. [Island Social Trends]
  • Speaker 21 – Moe Sihota (former NDP MLA) – The “central premise” of the government’s housing legislation is “correct, not misplaced”, and addresses the ‘missing middle’ by taking single family dwelling lots and putting three or four units on them. The government “has been investing in non-market housing”, as well as issues of addiction and domestic violence. The provincial government “understands something is wrong with the notion of having the private for-profit sector” leading housing. “The private sector isn’t doing its job” to address the missing middle. “Work with your local MLA. The relationship between community and MLA is essential.” Says “infrastructure money will be there if development occurs”. Calls the new legislation “evolutionary”. If not everything is exactly right, “as changes are warranted, they will occur, they always do”. Says BC as a jurisdiction “works well” because “we listen to each other”.
  • Speaker 22 (Langford resident) – Noted that the previous speaker brought the provincial government presentation to the event.
  • Speaker 23 – Referenced a Vancouver Sun article that itemized a ‘city hall watch’ report as to who advised the provincial government on housing, including the real estate sector, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Urban Development Institute, Canadian Home Builders Association, Home Builders Vancouver, Small Housing BC.
  • Speaker 24 – “This government was about to spend $8 billion on a a museum and it was shouted down by the people.” Do the same with this housing legislation.
housing bureaucrat, retired, view royal
Retired former BC housing bureaucrat addressed View Royal council about the provincial housing legislation, Nov 23, 2023. [Island Social Trends]
  • Speaker 25 – former senior bureaucrat in BC housing – “The existing development situation has been known for decades; only five of 400 developments have been value-added through public consultation; civil rights have been trampled on.” Due to emphasis on single-family homes “cities are out of balance”. Suggests to change the way of building housing to create “sustainable, healthy-to-live-in” communities. Need to “increase the housing stock” and get “the cost of housing down”. Notes the cost of building public schools (View Royal schools are in SD61), in support of communities.
  • Speaker 26 (View Royal resident, former military) – Veterans fought for people’s freedom; sees people’s freedoms being “trampled on” with the new legislation. Need more housing, but also more privacy. Municipalities have lost the right to do zoning. Notes federal government is “not building social housing”.
  • Speaker 27 – Addressed the impact of the housing crisis on seniors; potentially losing having a place to live. Says people in their 20s and 30s are “freaking out and depressed”; not all have parents with a home or money to help out. People are not paying off capital in their homes. “Future generations won’t get to experience democracy” and “won’t be able to manage the tax burdens”. People are losing the opportunity to “integrate and talk to their neighbours”.
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View Royal Councillor Don Brown (seated) managed the speaker microphone during town hall on housing, Nov 23, 2023. [Island Social Trends]
  • Speaker 28 – Tone of meeting invitation and survey is “slanted to be against this legislation”. There are still more details and regulations to comment upon. Housing unaffordability has come quite far “in such a short period of time”; it felt inevitable. View Royal is ‘landlocked’. Urban infill has less impact on greenhouse gas emissions. As immigration continues, housing supply is not keeping up. Sees the small multi-family developments (possible now on single-family lots) as supporting smaller builders and developers (good for local economy) but notes “construction capacity issues” (labour market shortages).
  • Speaker 29 (View Royal resident) – She is not in favour of the plan “because of the way it’s being done”, “cannot let our democracy be taken away from us”. Notes already existing shortage of doctors and roads. “It’s not an affordability plan, it’s a loss of democracy.”
  • Speaker 30 – Need to be concerned about the natural environment — taking trees down, water and the permeable surfaces.
  • Speaker 31 (View Royal resident) – Glad to see small multi-family development potentially coming next-door to her single-family home lot, instead of highrises.

The mayor’s wrap-up:

Mayor Tobias noted that all speakers were given a chance to express their views “regardless of stance”. Said that he heard an overall concern for the “sanctity of municipalities and zoning”.

view royal, sarah jones, mayor tobias
Town of View Royal Corporate Officer Sarah Jones and Mayor Sid Tobias, at the Nov 23, 2023 town hall meeting. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Mayor Tobias said that View Royal council is “not opposed to housing” but should have a say in “where that housing goes”. Services (infrastructure) are part of what council also deals with. He said that a town hall held in person provides “warm data that comes out of dealing with humans”.

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