VICTORIA – The British Columbia government has introduced sweeping changes to boost the housing supply, and while local governments say they want to do their part, they’re concerned about effects the laws will have on their communities.
Jen Ford, the president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which represents local governments in the province, said the legislation leaves unanswered questions.
“The complex challenges fuelling B.C.’s housing crisis require an effective and constructive partnership between the province and local governments,” she said.
“This is meant to be a long road of collaboration and working together to meet the needs of communities.”
Premier David Eby said B.C. is facing a “desperate” housing situation where demand is outpacing supply and more must be done to raise the number of rental properties and increase home building in communities.
He told a news conference that two pieces of legislation tabled Monday aim to increase housing supply with measures that will end rental restrictions and force local governments to meet housing growth targets.
The province will work with local governments on the housing targets and removing rental restrictions on apartment complexes, Eby said.
“What we’re hoping to do with this legislation is change the conversation,” he said. “We are desperate for housing in our province. We need houses for people to keep our province running.”
Local governments strongly all support efforts to increase housing supply, but “the legislation leaves a number of unanswered questions,” said a UBCM analysis of the proposed legislation. “How will housing targets be defined?” says the analysis. “How will targets relate to current official community plans, regional planning and growth management plans, including efforts to limit urban sprawland address climate adaptation and mitigation?”
The analysis says because the target elements of the legislation remain undefined, they could “significantly affect how the legislation is implemented.”
Prof. Andy Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, said the legislation marks the start of a housing supply initiative that could take up to five years to show results.
“I think this is how you open up the process,” he said. “There won’t necessarily be immediate results as opposed to providing direction for those results to come to fruition.”
Eby, who was sworn in on Friday, said housing is one of the most critical issues that he will immediately address.
“This is one more piece in our journey to deliver affordable housing to British Columbians,” he said. “We’re counting on the cities to be good partners in this.”
The legislation includes provisions that allow the province to force local governments to comply, although the province said it doesn’t expect that will be necessary for communities facing a housing crisis.
Eby said the legislation is designed to be a framework for co-operation between the province and municipalities, but the government will have the power to ensure local governments meet housing development goals.
“This bill isn’t targeted at any particular municipality,” said Eby, who, as housing minister before becoming premier, had expressed concerns about delays in permitting approving for developments in communities.
The housing targets would encourage local governments to address barriers to construction, including updating zoning bylaws and streamlining development permits, so housing is built faster.
The legislation would also change the law to remove discriminatory age limits in condominium properties covered by the Strata Property Act, but 55-plus buildings would remain to preserve seniors’ communities.
The government says the information it has through the Speculation and Vacancy Tax shows there are about 2,900 empty condos that can’t be rented because condo rules prevent it.
If approved, changes to the Strata Property Act would take effect immediately, while the Housing Supply Act is scheduled to be brought into force by mid-2023.