Ottawa, Metro Vancouver breach impasse over housing cash

Condo towers under construction rise up a few blocks away from houses, in Burnaby, B.C., on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Metro Vancouver municipalities and the federal government have overcome an impasse holding up the flow of tens of millions of dollars to build new housing.

At stake was more than $140 million from the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund, money earmarked to reward municipalities taking steps to speed up housing construction.

Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser had been set to announce payouts to both Surrey and Burnaby in September, but cancelled the visit at the last moment citing concerns about new development cost charges (DCCs) under consideration by the Metro Vancouver board of directors.

A third-party review commissioned by Metro Vancouver found that the proposed increase to DCCs — fees the region charges developers to pay for infrastructure like water, liquid waste and park infrastructure — could add up to $14,657 per unit in apartment construction.

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Click to play video: 'Massive Metro Vancouver fee increase to proceed despite objections'
Massive Metro Vancouver fee increase to proceed despite objections

In October, the Metro Vancouver board went ahead with increasing its DCCs despite Ottawa’s protests, setting up a potential showdown over the housing cash.

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That conflict, however, appears to have been averted.

A letter to Metro Vancouver Board Chair and Delta Mayor George Harvie, dated Nov. 30 and obtained by Global News, confirmed he was ready to begin working on Housing Accelerator Fund deals with select municipalities.

He cited the B.C. NDP government’s dramatic suite of housing legislation, including allowing up to four units on a residential lot and increasing density near transit, along with streamlining development finance tools, as a key reason for the change.

Fraser also pointed to regular planned reviews of the DCC policy at the Metro Vancouver board in his letter.

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“I am glad to see that you will conduct annual reviews of the DCC bylaws and the waiver program to ensure that the development cost charge increases are not impacting the building of more rental supply and affordable homes for families,” Fraser wrote.

“This is a positive step, and I trust that you will change the approach in the event you determine negative impacts on home construction in the region.”

Click to play video: 'Federal housing minister cancels funding announcement amid development cost changes'
Federal housing minister cancels funding announcement amid development cost changes

B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he expected Fraser to visit the region soon to make housing funding announcements.

“These infrastructure dollars are critical to ensure that we can meet the housing needs we have in our communities, the targets we have set,” Kahlon said.

“So knowing that the housing accelerator fund will flow to communities is a very big step.”

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In a statement, Harvie said he was thankful the federal government was back at the table, as all levels of government work to hit their housing targets.

The B.C. government forecasts that its recent legislative changes could deliver up to 293,000 homes over the next decade.

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