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New-home data highlights lack of 'missing middle' housing: insider

Few townhomes and houseplexes — "missing middle" housing — are being built in Greater Victoria, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s monthly survey of new housing construction.
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The vast majority of new housing starts in the capital region in the first eight months of the year have been large multi-family projects. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Greater Victoria homebuilders remained busy in August as construction started on 664 homes but industry insiders point out what’s missing in that number is the missing-middle housing municipalities have been talking about but few have delivered.

According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s monthly survey of new housing construction, of the 664 new homes started last month, 645 were either apartments or single-family homes. Only four semi-detached homes and 15 townhomes — the missing middle — were started in the region last month.

“We’re seeing the continuing significant decline in missing-middle housing and single-family housing, that’s housing for young families,” said Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders’ Association.

Edge said the numbers paint a stark picture of a region where it’s getting more expensive to build.

The vast majority of new starts are large multi-family projects. Through the end of August, of the 2,937 total starts, 2,481 were apartments.

“Large multi-family condo apartments are up 11 per cent this year at 2,481 units while detached and single-family homes are down 50 per cent and missing-middle townhomes are down 33 per cent,” he said. “It speaks to the regulatory hurdles and costs.”

Edge said with a high-interest rate environment, rising costs of labour, labour shortages, high cost of land, increasing supply costs and increasing fees and requirements from municipalities, builders need economies of scale to build.

He said it does not bode well for municipalities like Victoria pushing for more townhomes and the like to house young families and young professionals.

He said so far this year, despite Victoria passing bylaws to kick-start a missing-middle housing program, the city has yet to see one project break ground.

Through to the end of August Victoria has seen 11 single-family homes started, 527 apartments started and zero row houses or semi-detached units.

In an earlier interview, Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto said the city will review its missing-middle policy this fall after the slow take up of the missing-middle housing initiative, which aims to increase the supply of townhomes, houseplexes and small apartment buildings, which are the middle ground between detached single-family homes and highrises.

Alto said the city likely put too much into the one policy, despite streamlining the approval process.

Victoria is not the only one.

Edge noted Metchosin, Highlands and Oak Bay have also not seen the start of a single missing-middle unit, while Central Saanich has just two and View Royal has three so far this year.

Edge said it is going to have to get better as the province is on the cusp of bringing in legislation to make missing-middle housing easier to build and setting targets for a number of communities.

“There is some pressure on the municipalities,” he said.

Nationally, the pace of housing starts slowed slightly in August.

The national housing agency said the seasonally adjusted annual rate of starts in August was 252,787 units versus 255,232 in July.

The pace of multi-unit urban starts decreased one per cent to 191,250, while the rate of single-detached homes rose two per cent to 41,825.

Provincially, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of starts remained stable at 50,687 in August.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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