B.C. mulls overriding local governments to promote more housing development

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B.C. government considering taking some building permit powers away from municipalities
WATCH: B.C.'s housing minister says the provincial government is considering taking some permit powers away from municipal governments, in order to get more housing built. Ted Chernecki reports – Feb 23, 2022

The B.C. minister responsible for housing is suggesting the province may step in and override municipalities to speed up the pace of new housing approval.

Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby says the province prefers to cooperate with municipalities and “support them in their independent local government functions,” but that at the end of the day, “municipalities simply are not approving enough housing in a timely enough way.”

“We do know there are municipalities with significant transit investments coming, we need to know that when that transit investment shows up that people are able to find homes that are affordable and are in the area of those transit stations,” Eby said.

“And we haven’t consistently seen that, so I think that’s one of the opportunities that’s there for us, hopefully cooperatively and ultimately if necessary, by setting out requirements for things like transit funding.”

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Eby said the province is looking at taking away some of municipal governments’ permitting powers and is looking at possible legislation and regulatory changes in the legislature’s fall sitting.

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Too many housing development proposals become stalled at the permit approval stage as local councils deliberate over building heights, parking issues and the character of neighbourhoods, he said.

Coquitlam city councillor Craig Hodge, who also sits on the Union of B.C. Municipalities executive raised concerns the prospect of overriding municipalities could take valuable autonomy away from locally-elected governments representing residents’ wishes.

“I think that we’re trying to overly simplify the problem, and I think that trying to suggest that there’s a one size fits all that’s going to work, I think is is wrong,” he told CKNW’s the Jas Johal Show, noting a solution that works in Vancouver might not for a small community like Vanderhoof.

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“It is always a balancing act between planning for the future, but also making sure that you protect the the lifestyle and look after the residents that do live here today. And that is that the tough part of being a city councillor.”

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But Vancouver developer Jon Stovell said something needs to be done to stop organized groups of residents opposed to any new development in their neighbourhoods from scuttling badly-needed housing projects.

“The power dynamic has shifted to people who are already housed, so you have people who are already housed opposing housing for people who aren’t housed. It’s a fundamentally flawed system,” he said.

“One community group can turn the fortunes of a councillor, so they need senior government to give them some cover.”

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That said, moving authority into provincial hands may not be a panacea, he said, noting that wait times for approvals from the provincial Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Transportation were themselves getting longer and longer.

Eby says the government is looking at other jurisdictions that have implemented similar policies to increase housing supply, including in the states of California, Oregon, Washington, where governments recently set minimum targets, and New Zealand, which essentially banned single-house zoning in major cities.

— with files from Ted Chernecki and the Canadian Press

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