British Columbia

Will Victoria's new 'missing middle' housing policy help renters?

Victoria city council voted Thursday to pass the Missing Middle Housing Initiative (MMHI), a slate of housing rezoning policies that will pave the way for more houseplexes and townhouses across the provincial capital.

Proponents say it could help increase affordable housing; critics say it will not help renters

A few builders work on the wooden frames for a home, in the shadow of a large under-construction building with blue tarp on it.
The City of Victoria has passed a slate of proposals that could see townhouses and houseplexes built across the city without the need for rezoning. Critics say it does little to alleviate the burden on existing renters in the third-least-affordable city in Canada. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Victoria city council voted Thursday to pass the Missing Middle Housing Initiative (MMHI), a slate of housing rezoning policies that will pave the way for more houseplexes and townhouses across the provincial capital.

While proponents of the strategy, including Victoria's mayor, say it could lead to an increase in affordable housing supply, critics say it will not make life easier for renters.

The MMHI is a contentious policy headed by former mayor Lisa Helps that the last council was set to vote on before it was deferred last September.

Now, a council headed by current Mayor Marianne Alto voted 6-3 to pass the initiative on Thursday.

Effective March 12, the initiative would replace single-family zoning and allow the construction of six-unit homes on mid-block lots and up to 12-unit townhomes on some corner lots without rezoning.

It's called the "missing middle" strategy for a number of reasons. Advocates for the strategy say it provides more housing for middle-income families, as well as bridge the gap between detached single-family homes and more dense apartment blocks.

"Missing middle, to be quite frank, is not going to be at all the be-all and end-all of the solution to a lack of affordable units," Alto told Jason D'Souza, host of CBC's All Points West, on Thursday.

"There are so many other ways we have yet to consider and we'll continue to consider."

A woman with short white hair and round glasses smiles for the camera in a small room.
Marianne Alto, mayor of Victoria, was previously a city councillor who supported the missing middle initiative under the previous government. She says housing supply is 'absolutely key' to solving the affordable housing crisis. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

The B.C. government has made increasing the supply of housing a key priority, especially under Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.

"It is, I think, a very reasonable reflection of where the provincial government is intending to go across the province," Alto added, saying Victoria is "demonstrating the possibilities" that will become a need when the province mandates building targets for cities.

According to city staff, 'missing middle' housing previously accounted for just five per cent of new homes built in Victoria.

Housing to remain unaffordable: councillor

Victoria's push for more housing supply comes as a recent report showed the city had the third-highest rents in Canada in 2022.

According to the city's own numbers, 61 per cent of people living in Victoria are renters.


Stephen Hammond, one of the city councillors who voted against the MMHI proposal, said the policy lacked any teeth to address housing affordability.

"It should be called the 'missing millionaire', because if there's any millionaire missing in the City of Victoria, they'll be able to buy one of these homes," he said.

Hammond says the "economics 101" principle of assuming that increased housing supply would eventually lead to lower costs has not played out for housing in B.C.

The councillor added that existing renters would be pushed out if their landlord decides to build more units under the policy, even if those are rentals.

"When you suddenly bring on something like this, these people are going to be thrown out with very little compensation of any kind," he said.

Hammond went on to say the city should create more purpose-built affordable rentals.

Advocate asks for more transparency

Leslie Robinson, a volunteer with the Victoria Tenant Action Group, said developers would benefit under the new system.

"When they tell us that there's a net increase in affordable rental units … it's a lie," she said. "Because they're not counting all the loss of housing that's in single-family zoned houses, the loss of rental housing."

Robinson is asking the city to properly document how much affordable housing is being lost.

"The fear is that the non-resident [landlords] … are going to be more likely to sell their house for redevelopment, than the resident owners," she added.

She is also asking for more substantial regulation that requires new missing-middle housing replacing old rental units to have a set number of rental units.

Currently, the MMHI contains some policies to provide affordable units in some of the buildings, as well as a "density bonus" structure that will help the city buy public land for affordable housing.

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto discsusses the approval of the controversial Missing Middle Housing Initiative. The policy eliminates single-family zoning and makes it possible for multifamily developments of up to 6 units on any residential lot.

"Our staff are looking at beefing up our only tenant assistance policy, which is already quite robust," Alto said when pressed about how tenants will be protected under the new policy.

"We'll be also looking to the province to fill in any gaps and provide some oversight as well.

"We will do everything within our authority to ensure that we have some policies that not just support those existing tenants, but that actually reward potential developers for maintaining rentals and maintaining rentals that are reasonable rate."


Akshay Kulkarni


Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at

With files from All Points West and Christina (Hwa Song) Jung