The recent string of housing announcements by the Province since the beginning of November represents the most significant changes in how we approach zoning, approvals, as-of-right zoning, infrastructure financing, short-term rentals, and extensions of the spec tax in recent memory. Reactions from industry, municipal jurisdictions, and the public have been mixed, but there’s little doubt that the extent of these proposals is comprehensive, far-reaching, and represents the most substantial shakeup in over a generation.
As the announcements poured in through a flurry of news releases and press conferences, the reaction has been somewhat subdued and subject to critical opinions and commentary. The breakdown and analysis have been slower than usual despite the scope and scale of the changes, which should be celebrated as real change capable of actually ‘moving the needle.’
While there is always room for improvement with the recently announced initiatives, the fact remains that the status quo prevailed to date has failed to expedite the provision of housing across the entire housing continuum, has choked supply and polarized housing choices (very high density/very low density) and has contributed to driving price points to unaffordable levels.
The proposed policies are based on extensive consultation, some basic and sound planning principles, and precedents of similar legislation in jurisdictions such as New Zealand with real-time results to observe.
BILL 44: HOUSING STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2023
The proposed legislative and regulatory changes found in Bill 44: Housing Statutes Amendment Act, 2023 to promote infill and gentle densification in the vastly underutilized single-family zones that constitute over 75% of our urban land area, encompass secondary suites, accessory dwelling units, laneway homes, multiplex zoning, official community plans, housing needs reports, and public hearings.
A detailed breakdown includes:
Secondary Suites, ADU’s & Up to Six Units Allowed on a Single-Family Lot
- permit a minimum of one secondary suite or detached accessory dwelling unit/laneway home in all communities throughout BC, with some exemptions; and
- require municipalities, with over 5,000 people, to enact bylaws that would allow for as-of-right zoning for:
- The prescribed size of lot is 280 square meters. Lots less than 280 square meters would have a minimum 3 permitted units and lots greater than 280 meters would have a minimum of four permitted units; and
- 3-4 units on lots exclusively zoned for single-family or duplex use.
- 6 units on larger lots currently zoned for larger single-family or duplex residential lots, within a prescribed distance to transit stops with frequent service in select areas.
- parcels must be within an urban containment boundary.
- Municipalities might permit additional density but cannot have bylaws that allow for less than the provincially allowed units.
Housing Needs Reports (HNR’s), Official Community Plans (OCP’s), and Public Hearings
- All local governments will need to update the Housing Needs Reports (HNR) using a standard method, for a more consistent robust understanding of local housing needs over the next 20 years.
- Municipalities must plan for and engage communities on these needs in OCPs, updated every 5 years to reflect the most recent HNRs.
- Municipalities must align zoning bylaws with OCP and HNR to pre-zone for the 20-year total amount of housing their community’s needs.
- All local governments will eliminate redundant processes and one-off public hearings that slow down housing projects that already fit with the community plan;
- Vancouver Charter does not include the same OCP framework as the Local Government Act. The zoning stage is the only time community members can directly engage with their Council. Vancouver is exploring how the changes to the public hearing process could apply to Vancouver.
BILL 47: STANDARDS FOR TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT AREAS 2023
In addition, the other significant proposed legislation affecting zoning regulation and land use designation is Bill 47: Standards for Transit-Oriented Development Areas 2023:
SkyTrain Stations in Metro Vancouver
- Prescribed distance of 200 meters or less from a rapid-transit hub – minimum density to 5.0 FAR, minimum height up to 20 stories.
- Prescribed distance of 201 meters to 400 meters from a rapid-transit hub – minimum density up to 4.0 FAR, minimum height up to 12 stories.
- Prescribed distance of 401 meters to 800 meters from a rapid-transit hub – minimum density up to 3.0 FAR, minimum height up to 8 stories.
Bus Exchanges in Metro Vancouver
- Prescribed distance of 200 meters or less of a bus exchange – minimum density up to 4.0 FAR, minimum height up to 12 stories.
- Prescribed distance of 201 meters to 400 meters of bus exchange – minimum density up to 3.0 FAR, minimum height up to 8 stories.
Capital Region, Kelowna and Other Medium-Sized Communities
- Prescribed distance of 200 meters or less of a bus exchange – minimum density up to 3.5 FAR, minimum allowable height up to 10 stories.
- Prescribed distance of 201 meters to 400 meters of bus exchange – minimum density up to 2.5 FAR, minimum height up to 6 stories.
Smaller Sized Municipalities
- Prescribed distance of 200 meters or less of a bus exchange – minimum density up to 2.5 FAR, minimum allowable height up to 6 stories.
- Prescribed distance of 201 meters to 400 meters of bus exchange – minimum density up to 1.5 FAR, minimum allowable height up to 4 stories
A GOOD START
Overall, the noted changes are all directed at providing more housing sooner and intensifying land use around very expensive and often under-utilized transit lines. There is no doubt that many details need to be addressed and worked into the machinery of approvals and permits, but this is a good start to see an initiative that is focused on streamlining the process and affecting meaningful change.
Enabling “as-of-right zoning” for multiple units on a single-family lot unlocks the potential to introduce housing units into core areas where the land is underused and the residents over-housed. This approach also unlocks the equity built into homes, providing opportunities for families and others to meet their housing needs while simultaneously increasing the overall housing supply and eliminating the need for time-consuming and expensive lot-by-lot rezoning, that places unintentional inflation of the value of already approved lots.
While single-family home applications will still be considered, particularly in outlying areas with larger lots and limited access to transit or services, the potential for densification becomes more pronounced within well-serviced, transit-enabled core areas of our cities. This shift in housing choice has the potential to be a game-changer.
POTENTIAL GAME CHANGER
The changes regarding the density surrounding transit are another game-changing piece of legislation wherein the province has now mandated that applications adjacent to transit be of a density that justifies the establishment and viable ongoing operation and maintenance of such transit infrastructure. A Skytrain line and stations, or Rapid Bus Line surrounded by single-family residents cannot provide the ridership required to sustain such services.
By regulating and specifying the intensity of development in these adjacent areas without the need for long drawn-out zoning battles, the legislation incentivizes industries to provide housing swiftly and efficiently. Moreover, by concurrently reducing or even eliminating inflated and costly parking requirements, this incentive has the ability to become truly transformative. It opens the door to a game-changing approach that not only addresses housing needs but also enhances the viability of public transit in these critical areas.
MUNICIPAL PUSH BACK
Municipalities and UBCM have expressed concerns over the new legislation and the workload required on their part to affect the changes embodied in the new legislation. There are also some jurisdictions that have already embarked on similar initiatives before the Provincial announcements, potentially necessitating adjustments or integration. The City of Coquitlam staff has summarized their concerns in a brief to be sent to the Province, highlighting 11 areas of direct impact on processes and internal resources. In essence, they are requesting more time and reconsideration of the mandated changes.
This stance aligns with the widespread criticism emanating from various municipalities, revealing an undercurrent of resistance perceived as provincial overreach into municipal jurisdictions, a sentiment also directed at the Federal government.
It is noteworthy that both the Provincial and Federal governments have been, and continue to be, proactive in providing substantial funding to municipalities to facilitate the required changes, aiming to streamline housing delivery while seeking accountability from local governments.
AIMLESSLY LOOKING FOR A SILVER BULLET
The media serves as a platform for numerous dissenting voices, many of which hinge on the opinions of authors suggesting that the proposed actions may not serve as a “silver bullet” for housing affordability. Some argue that the entire suite of proposed legislation is flawed and should be withdrawn. However, the actual facts and outcomes are yet to be determined.
It’s essential to recognize that the current status quo is not working. While the proposed legislation may not be flawless, examples from other jurisdictions that inspired the Province’s proposals are yielding positive results. These proposals, while imperfect, will likely need adjustments to align with real-time, real-life circumstances and address any unintended consequences that may arise.
OPENING THE DOOR TO OPPORTUNITY
The Province has undertaken a path that can and will drive change into a system that has been stalled and weighed down by its own inertia for decades. Much of what is being proposed reflects the commonsense proposals that we as an industry have been advocating for years. The alternative of continued study and research, and funding unsustainable and stop-gap solutions is not practical or timely in terms of addressing our housing crisis.
The proposed legislation is opening a door to opportunity and should be celebrated as the first in a series of meaningful changes to an antiquated and ineffective process that is no longer viable. It is important to look at this legislation as a base upon which other changes may have to be made to ensure we can dramatically increase our housing choices and supply and begin to address the issue of affordability.
Many details are yet to be announced and or worked out, and HAVAN will continue to provide input and direction to seek the best outcomes for consumers and our members. It is essential that we work collaboratively toward the common goal of providing homes to all who need it to meet the challenge of the housing crisis.
HAVAN continues to work with CHBA BC and CHBA to advocate for all levels of government to work together to address the challenges of the housing industry including zoning restrictions, density limits, and NIMBYism.
Looking to stay up-to-date on Metro Vancouver’s residential housing industry? Sign up for Ron’s weekly Monday Morning Briefing and other HAVAN emails here.
QUICK BITES …
The Province last week expanded areas the Speculation Tax will be applied, adding 13 new communities to the existing list. This tax is directed to addressing investment properties and making them available to people seeking housing. Not so sure that this is anything but a tax grab as these units held by those who have more than one residence are typically not standing empty and may represent vacation and or recreational properties.
The Federal government released their Fall Economic Statement last week and while it promised significant action on housing it was mostly focused on affordable and social housing and reflected many “re-announcements”. CHBA has provided a summary of the highlights that you should review.
One announcement by the Feds included a pledge to provide $15 billion in low-cost loans to be made available for the development of purpose-built rental housing. In conjunction with the relief of the GST on such development this is a real incentive to spur construction in this space. Another $1 billion was put forward to be available for 7,000 non-profit, co-op, and public housing units.
In a letter to Mayor Olivia Chow in Toronto, Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser outlines several requests that he would like to see addressed in conjunction with potential federal funding. This may also seem to be a “pressure tactic” but why shouldn’t the people underwriting the funding be able to stipulate some conditions and or accountability – a billion here and a billion there … pretty soon it adds up to real money!! It is also interesting to note that almost everything touched on in the Minister’s letter reflects initiatives we are already undertaking here in BC.
Earlier this year in the spring, we assisted Statistics Canada in making introductions to a number of our members to begin compiling a focused and meaningful report on the new housing market with info coming directly from developers and builders. StatsCan is going to reach out to our sector again to encourage as much participation as possible to make the data and reporting more robust. Their request is offered here, and we encourage all members to participate and contribute to making this a useful and accurate piece of statistical data and reporting.
Statistics Canada is working to develop a BOLD and VISIONARY new housing market intelligence report on a quarterly basis. The insights will help builders/developers to make better decisions (spot the trends), raise awareness about the new home market for Canadians. These will be published in the future on a quarterly basis for a wide range of cities across all provinces in Canada and are able to compare cities and highlight strengths/challenges in each market.
We are asking builders/developers like you to share basic housing information with StatCan – such as homes listed or sold (pre-sale, etc.) each quarter, and its characteristics sq. ft, no. of bed and bath.
In Scope: any new dwelling listed or sold in Canada. Dwelling types: detached, semi, town houses, customs, low-rise and high-rise apartments, modular, stacked townhomes, etc.
We will be sending an email to ALL builders and developers this week. Our first data collection invite will go to the builders in January 2024 (so this week’s email is in advance for preparation work or for builders to reach out to me for any queries!).
Rohit Verma, Senior Economist
Statistics Canada / Government of Canada
firstname.lastname@example.org / Tel: 343-550-2078