Filling the ‘missing middle’ mishap in local community
By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter
Two years ago, Mike Folka, a fourth generation resident of New Westminster, came face-to-face with the potential of moving out of the city. With his family having welcomed a third child, even a dual family income wasn’t able to cut it when it came to a single family home.
“Forced with a decision, we had to choose what was more important; owning a single family home (though not in New West) or being able to stay in the community we had both grown to love,” Folka explained in a speech to city council.
“In the end, our love of our community won out. Our hearts are here and this is where we wanted to stay to raise our kids. So prioritizing our desire to stay over the now very apparent luxury of owning a single family home, we set out with our realtor in search of a townhome that would meet our needs. This is no easy task. A large portion of New West’s housing stock is made up of either single family homes or condo buildings. We don’t have much to offer in between. But with a little luck and some good timing, we were able to find an affordable three bedroom stacked townhome in the very same neighbourhood I myself grew up in. I won’t hesitate to say, we got lucky… [but], there are many other young families who haven’t been,” he said during the speech.
Folka, a Glenbrooke North resident, is an avid supporter of Yes in New West, a coalition amongst New Westminster residents who live throughout different neighbourhoods of the city. Their ongoing goal has been to expand the choice of housing for residents by filling in the “missing middle.”
The “missing middle” represents all the types of housing between apartment buildings and separate single-family homes; such as duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and multiplexes. In addition, an increase of townhouses is in high demand. According to their website, the most current communities with housing filling up the missing middle are Austin, San Francisco, and Denver. In Canada, major metropolitan areas have yet to fully implement the missing middle housing technique successfully.
“I can’t help but wonder how much harder it will be for my children when they get older and look to go out [for homes] of their own,” he said in his speech. “Will they be able to afford a single family home? The fear that my kids, and others, may be forced out of the community they grew up in, and not by choice, is a very real one. One we’re already seeing happen today.”
According to the latest staff report, residents have voiced their concern about the missing middle, not essentially just filling out the main city streets, but throughout entire neighbourhoods and nearby transit services. Understandably, city council is taking a closer look at the situation, as they begin to formulate the draft for the city’s first official community plan. Among a delegation to council in early November, Brad Cavanagh, a New Westminster resident of seven years, joined Yes in New West in eagerly encouraging a staff recommendation to support an increase in townhouses along the 500 block of Fifth Street.
“New Westminster, like Metro Vancouver, has a housing affordability problem. The benchmark price for a single family house [in the city] is over a million dollars. To qualify for a mortgage on a million-dollar house, a family needs an income of at least $170,000, and that’s only if the family has saved up $200,000 for a down payment,” said Cavanagh to city council in the same delegation at city council.
Cavanagh further explained his struggle to provide for his family alongside his wife, especially with childcare costs chipping away at their available funds for a down payment. In many instances, “home ownership was a distant dream.” The painful decision to leave New Westminster was rapidly approaching, but luckily, the couple found a townhouse for sale in what can only be described as a miracle.
“Today, there were thirteen townhouses for sale in New Westminster,” he said at the meeting. “Five are under construction, all in Queensborough, and three are in adult-only buildings, leaving only five available for families with children to purchase and move into today. Only one of those is listed for less than what we paid 10 months ago.”
In the decades to follow, many supporters of missing middle housing predict a bleaker situation for hopeful homeowners, especially if city council makes the conscious decision to preserve large areas of single family homes.
“I love New Westminster… [and] I am glad that we chose to move here, [but] I urge council to make the decision to increase the housing options across all neighbourhoods in New Westminster. Keep in mind that these decisions won’t just impact you or me, but also our children and grandchildren. Let’s give them more housing options so they too can grow up and raise their families in New Westminster.”