British Columbia

Province considers law allowing it to intervene when cities reject affordable-housing projects

A lack of housing availability and affordability has the province looking into how it can intervene when municipalities refuse to build more homes.

Move draws mixed reaction from leaders, experts

The province is looking at ways to override municipalities that aren't approving more affordable housing fast enough. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A lack of housing availability and affordability has the province looking into how it can intervene when municipalities refuse to build more homes.

Last week, Housing Minister David Eby said there is a "huge amount of pressure" for B.C. to create more housing as migration from other parts of the country is at a 30-year high and vacancy rates are at an all-time low.

He said his government is looking at legislation that would allow the province to override municipalities' decisions not to approve affordable housing projects. B.C. is looking at other countries such as New Zealand, which has banned single-family home zoning in its major cities.

"I feel a huge sense of urgency to get as much housing approved and built, especially rental housing as we can," Eby said. 

Tom Davidoff, an associate professor with UBC's Sauder School of Business, said the move is "appropriate," given the housing crunch we face.

"It makes complete sense for the province, a higher level of aggregation, to come in and say, no, we're going to allow denser housing in what are currently single family neighborhoods," Davidoff told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Davidoff, whose research focuses on housing and who teaches to the next generation of homebuyers, said young people trying to get into the market will be priced out if municipalities don't approve housing.

"We need aggressive action from the province," he said. 

B.C. Housing Minister David Eby says, with migration to B.C. at a 30-year high, there is pressure to build more housing. (MIke McArthur/CBC)

But the organization representing B.C.'s municipal governments said fixing the housing crisis is more complex than just building more homes.

A Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) report says data shows enough homes are being built to meet the province's growing population, but the numbers of affordable houses and rental properties are lacking.

UBCM president Laurey Anne Roodenburg said there are other factors involved in limiting local housing developments beyond municipal approvals and they range from shortages of skilled workers to provincial government red tape.

Eby's consideration also raised concerns for Oak Bay, B.C., Mayor Kevin Murdoch, who said provincial intervention in housing approvals would undermine community plans and what leaders believe is best for their communities.

"I'm not arguing about the fact that we have to absolutely speed this up," he said.

"I would argue that that's where we have to get our ducks in order to make sure that we're as clear as possible on the zoning and on the guidelines so that when people are coming forward, they have an amount of certainty in their application."

He said of all the other municipal leaders he's been in touch with, none have been supportive of provincial intervention. 

While most communities recognize the need for more housing, residents prefer to remain in more spaced out neighbourhoods creating a catch-22 situation, Davidoff said.

To encourage communities to build more housing, Davidoff suggests a provincial property tax for those who want services but aren't willing to bring in more people to pay for them. 

"You can say, well, you can get all the libraries and bike paths you could ever dream of if you do what [the province] wants and approve more density more quickly," Davidoff said.

Alternatively, he said the province could offer developers a choice to either work with the province to get something built, at a cost or they can work with municipalities. 

"Municipalities don't want to be overrun by provincial housing [where] the province collects all the money from zoning," Davidoff said.

"Municipalities would then be in a position where they really need to respond."

Roodenburg said the UBCM report calls for a more collaborative approach between local governments and the provincial and federal governments to build more affordable housing in B.C.

With files from On the Island and The Canadian Press


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