This past Wednesday, HAVAN hosted its annual Connect: Municipal Dinner, presented by BC Housing and Patron Sponsor FortisBC at the Paradox Hotel Vancouver with 190 registered members including 24 elected officials. Featuring a fireside chat with City of Vancouver Mayor Ken Sims and The Vancouver Sun and The Province Editor-in-Chief Harold Munro the conversation centered on platform promises and achievements over the past year, recent increases in DCCs, permitting times, and the housing crisis.
Sims acknowledged if we want to get serious about the housing crisis, we must build up around our SkyTrain stations, noting the City’s review to streamline the ‘shadow crisis’, increase floor plates of new builds, and increase the number of certified professionals to speed up the delivery of housing as proactive steps being taken.
Sims said, ‘We have to look at the good of the whole over 30 years.’ Pointing to the Broadway Plan, he envisions a densely populated area with a lot more high rises that will be the health corridor, potentially connecting with rapid transit to Portland, Seattle, and UBC. ‘Saint Paul’s Hospital could be the next Mayo Clinic of the PNW. The next 30-50 years will be amazing.’
Sims proceeded to frame the conversation with the role of the Mayor and Council as providing the vision of where we want to go, making sure the right people are in place; the City Manager and the Director of Planning, with the resources to do their job noting ‘the logistics work is not my job.’
Without the logistics, timelines were hard to pin down.
3-3-3-1 AND PERMITTING
Reviewing platform promises, when questioned when a permit under the 3-3-3-1 Permit Approval Framework (3 days to approve a home renovation, 3 weeks to approve single-family homes and townhomes, 3 months to approve multi-family mid-rise projects and one year to approve high-rise or large-scale projects) would become available, the answer was ‘Don’t know yet. There is no definitive timeline. It’s not embedded in the system yet.’
‘We are hearing anecdotal stories of projects moving through the system faster, but if we are relying on ‘that one guy’ to push through projects, we will fail. I’m an ops person, it doesn’t mean anything unless it is scalable. We have to invest in the system, the infrastructure, and make it easier, citing the recent consolidation of 9 separate low-density RS zones into 1 new residential inclusive R1-1 zone to make it easier to build homes as impactful.
Sims went on to offer hope. ‘We are looking at AI. There is an outfit in Australia, and they are issuing permits in 12 seconds. We can leapfrog. … The stuff we are talking about is not rocket science. … AI is doubling every 10 months. I look at 3-3-3-1 and I think in ten years, we’re probably going to laugh at it. Kelowna is doing some work with AI. Our City Manager and Planning department are talking with people in Kelowna who are leading the charge. There are no promises, but there is a lot of work being done in the background.’
Reviewing the permit portal the province introduced, Sims said ‘I’m a workflow guy. We’re taking it to another level. People think technology will make things better. Technology accelerates workflow. If you have the wrong workflow, it’s not going to work. If you are going to build a home and it takes 267 steps to get there, speeding this process up won’t help.’
When asked if the City of Vancouver is considering bringing back the ‘fast track nexus lane’ he said ‘Yes, I don’t know when, but it is a no-brainer. Especially if we are talking about standard builds. It will be coming, but timeline I don’t know.’ Sims indicated they are doing the things that are the easiest with the most impact first, to get the ball rolling as opposed to more complicated things that take a long time and don’t get payback for several years.
Asked about the Vancouver Charter and any appetite to adopt the BCBC Sims said ‘We are trying to get as close as possible, but from a selfish point of view, there are some things we will want to keep. We have to weigh costs against the benefits,’ admitting if everyone had the same building codes it would be a lot easier.’
DCCs, TAXES, AND FEDERAL FUNDING
Discussing the recent increase in DCCs voted in by the Metro Vancouver Regional District, Sims who was not present, where Vancouver, Coquitlam, North Shore, and New Westminster councilors voted to delay implementation but were outvoted by Burnaby, Surrey, Richmond, and Langley, acknowledged the entire region needs federal funding.
‘If it is on the city alone to support growth, we are in trouble. The City of Vancouver has a $500 Million capital deficit. If we don’t do anything about it, we might not be able to flush toilets in certain parts of the city in twenty years. Going back to the budget and the tax increase, part of that is to fund capital so we don’t have that situation. The cities cannot do this alone. So, we have to work with the province and the feds.’
When asked about campaigning on affordability and imposing a double-digit tax increase this year, Sims said he ‘screwed up’ the messaging around property taxes. ‘When you look at the property taxes we collect, a lot of it is not for properties, we collect for TransLink, Metro, Provincial School Tax, and when you look at Vancouver’s property increase tax it actually equates to .33 cents per day for the average condo owner, and .83 cents per day for the average homeowner noting they saved other increases such as stopping the road tax with a potential $250 Million set up fee and $50-$100 Million per year, which would equate to a 5-10% property fee increase.
GROWTH PAYS FOR GROWTH
Munro pointed to the big bills with the City’s deficit, and TransLink with their deficits requiring $600M additional dollars per year over five years starting in 2024 /2025 and that we don’t have the capacity to afford this with immigration being a solution and the idea that growth pays for growth.
Sims said it’s one way to look at it and that we must get creative. ‘What we’ve told people of Vancouver. You come to us with your challenges and opportunities but give us your solution and if it is a winner, of course, we will take it. It is also incumbent on us to support immigration. By 2030 1 in 4 people are going to be over the age of 65. If we want to maintain our standard of living, hospitals, and police services, we need to work with the federal and provincial governments to secure the investments that we need.’
STEP CODE AND CLIMATE ACTION
Discussing the Step Code and climate action, Sims was asked if it was a case of too many governments making too many demands. Self-described as a pragmatic environmentalist, Sims believes ‘when some initiatives are launched with zero impact, we need to ask, what is the impact, what is your accountability, what’s your actual carbon measure? The stakes are high dealing with an affordability crisis. If it is adding to the cost, delaying projects, and making projects more complicated to build, and there is zero impact on the environment, I’ve got a big problem with this,’ to which there was a robust round of applause.
Asked about the capacity of the electrical grid and working with the various stakeholders. Sims noted ‘We [council] haven’t had a very focused conversation on this. I think you just pivot, we live in a world of opportunity, technology is changing so quickly, I am not concerned about that.’
When asked how you bring communities along, get buy-in, and the culture of the people working at the city, noting change with 4 planning directors over the past 6-7 years, and the staff bottlenecks vs the administration, the mayor said the culture is changing. ‘Change isn’t bad. We have to make sure we have the right people in place.’
Sims pointed to four core values the City is focused on ‘Find a Better Way, Admire People, Customer Experience and Passionate about Making a Difference,’ acknowledging not everyone will have the same passion and some people are there just for the job. ‘The office of the mayor and council is bigger than any one person. When we look at issues, if it makes sense for the city for the next 30 years, we’re going to do it, and do it fast. It is a great lens to look through as it removes the emotions.’
In closing, being asked what the biggest accomplishment is this year, Mayor Sims said they ran their platform on 94 items, 40 of which they have nailed, still to be rolled out. Let’s hope it is not 30 years.
Thank you to sponsors Miracon Development, PD Moore Homes, Airtight Solutions, Associa British Columbia, Pacific Aerobarrier Systems, Trail Appliances, 360hometours.ca, and James Alfred Photography whose help supports networking events for the purpose of sharing information and advancing our industry.
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 …
- Housing Minister Sean Fraser says the federal government will reveal more housing measures in the fall budget update and in the coming months that aim to ramp up homebuilding across the country.
VIA reports that Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser says he will not be withholding subsidies to Metro Vancouver municipalities in order to permit more housing after the regional government voted unanimously Friday to increase construction fees to pay for growth-related infrastructure, such as sewer and water treatment facilities.
However, the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure, and Communities said he will be asking for a closer look at Metro Vancouver’s books.
- Minister Kahlon introduced Bill 44, part of the Homes for People Action Plan, proposing significant changes in housing legislation which aims to allow up to six units on single-family lots, including secondary suites, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and laneway homes. By June 30, 2024 municipalities with over 5,000 people are required to enact bylaws allowing 3-4 units on lots currently zoned for single-family/duplex use, depending on lot size, and up to 6 units on larger lots close to transit stops with frequent service.
- Meanwhile, as per the Globe and Mail, Toronto developers delay launch of about 14,000 new condos as sales dive.