Vancouver and Victoria are among the first 10 communities subject to new housing targets set by the provincial government under legislation passed last year. But it may take some time before these new targets will create new housing.
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon announced the communities Wednesday morning in Vancouver. Mayor Ken Sim joined Kahlon among others including Thomas Davidoff, director of the UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate and Jill Atkey, chief executive officer of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association.
Abbotsford and Delta in the Fraser Valley; North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Port Moody in Greater Vancouver; Oak Bay and Saanich in Greater Victoria and Kamloops also made the list.
“Our government is eager to work with this first cohort of municipalities to get shovels in the ground faster and ensure the homes people need get built,” Kahlon said.
He added that the housing crisis is hurting people and holding back the provincial economy.
“(We’re) taking action with our partners to cut red tape and get homes built faster for people,” he said. “Municipalities are our critical partners in addressing the housing crisis and building healthy, economically viable communities.”
Provincial authority to set housing targets in those municipalities comes from the Housing Supply Act passed late last fall.
It encourages municipalities starting those with what the province calls “the greatest need and highest projected growth” to build more housing by knocking down barriers, including updating zoning bylaws and streamlining local development approval processes.
But the legislation also includes what the province calls “compliance options as a last resort” should municipalities struggle to create the necessary conditions for housing.
While Kahlon declined to describe those “compliance options” in detail, he said provincial staff will meet with the municipalities over the next two weeks, adding municipalities will have a 30-day window during which they can respond to the province and its “comprehensive” targets.
“We will then make the targets public and our goal is to do a progress update every six months,” Kahlon said, adding that he expects most municipalities to cooperate and make progress in good faith.
“For those communities, who are having challenges after six months, we have the ability to bring in an independent advisor that will help where the barriers may be and help them make progress and if we that progress is being made, then we have the ability as a province to step in and make the decisions that we believe are necessary to ensure affordable housing in communities.”
Kahlon acknowledged that not all municipalities on the list are happy to be on it, but all communities in B.C. must do their part.
“Some communities have taken on growth and they have the ability to take on growth,” he said. “We have some communities that have hidden from growth, but that is just not acceptable when you are in a housing crisis…we need all communities to participate (and) we are going to engage with the local governments that are perhaps not happy to be on the list and find ways to move forward.”
Kahlon later insisted that the province is not trying to taking away power away from the municipalities.
“It’s merely saying that we have a housing crisis, here is how we can achieve levels of affordability in communities and leaving it to communities to go and have that conversation with their constituents, so that we can get foward and build the housing that we need.”
Another pressing question concerns the speed by which the targets will create new housing.
“We will start to see policy action quite quickly,” Davidoff said. “The affected municipalities will have to start producing improved land use processes, that leads to permissions and that in relatively short order (of time_ leads to construction. That takes times, but you see some construction impact within a year,” Davidoff said.
He also predicted that other municipalities not yet chosen for targets will speed up their processes to avoid making the list.
“Look — this isn’t going to lead to cheap housing within the next year by any means,” he said. “But it will begin the process of improved land use and better affordability,” he said.
The provincial government said that it chose the 10 municipalities based on an index, which economists and housing experts had developed. The index relies on the urgency of local housing needs, the availability of the right housing supply and housing affordability.
One notable absence from the list is the Central Okanagan community of Kelowna, the namesake of Canada’s fast-growing census metropolitan area, with the smaller community of Kamloops making the list.
“I didn’t pick communities randomly,” Kahlon said. “The models actually projected that (Kamloops) is a community in the Interior that needs additional housing, that there are some serious challenges there. It doesn’t preclude Kelowna from being on the list in the future. But I will say that we followed the research, that we followed the data.”
The province plans to announce a second round of eight to 10 municipalities in late 2023.
Sim welcomed Wednesday’s announcement.
“The housing challenges we see today aren’t just limited to one municipality, they impact our region and province as a whole,” he said. “It’s great to see the provincial government taking an increased leadership role in ensuring the delivery of more housing across the province.”
Sim acknowledged that Vancouver could have done more in the past to build more housing, but this is the time to move forward. He added Vancouver has made significant headway in breaking down longstanding barriers to housing approval and construction in the the last six months.
“We hope our progress can inspire other communities across British Columbia to take bold action on housing,” he said.