The public is getting a look at the full list of cities the B.C. government is targeting as it seeks to speed up housing construction.
Last week, the province unveiled the first 10 cities on what’s earned the unofficial nickname of the “naughty list” of municipalities that need to do more to build housing of all types.
The province says those communities were chosen on four criteria: Housing need, projected population growth, land availability and housing affordability.
But, as first reported by Postmedia, the government appears to have tipped its hand in an order-in-council revealing all 47 municipalities the Ministry of Housing wants boost housing development.
That list is comprised of every municipality currently subject to B.C.’s Speculation and Vacancy Tax.
“A significant amount of work was done to identify the communities that had the most amount of pressure on their housing and also had the opportunity to grow, so in order to have efficiency, we used the regulation opportunities to capture all of those communities in case they are selected in the future,” Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon told Global News in an interview.
“Not every single one of these 47 we are going to target. And in fact there may be communities not within the 47 that may get selected as well.”
Kahlon said the Housing Supply Act’s goal was to set expectations for the communities with provincial targets, then allow individual cities to consult with their communities to find areas they can upzone to streamline the housing process.
Some of the names on the list are no surprise, like the growing municipalities of Surrey, Kelowna, Langford and Nanaimo.
But others like the tiny Belcarra have raised eyebrows, and there are some notable omissions, like the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, said while there’s no question Whistler is facing intense housing pressures, its absence from the list isn’t necessarily unusual.
“It’s a municipality that has been proactive, working hard towards developing housing for their workers and they’ve been very explicit about how challenged they are building housing for their workers,” he said, pointing to efforts to deal with the issue like Whistler’s creation of its own municipal housing corporation.
“I don’t know what putting them on a list would do towards motivating them to do more, because a municipality like Whistler has been going very hard, innovating towards ensuring there’s a level of housing for their local workers.”
Yan said the bigger question in his mind was how the province would ensure the government’s initiative would both ensure the right type of units are built and address problems beyond simply cutting red tape.
Even if the legislation has the intended effect of streamlining the approval of new housing starts, he said, “any number” of changes remain.
“We talk about the question of labour, we talk about the issue of materials, and then also financing. In those three elements, they in many cases offer their own challenges towards the production of housing that isn’t just red tape,” he said.
“And really I think we have to go back to the idea of it’s not the question of how many units we need to produce, but who we are trying to house and what we need to get that population into housing.”
Leigha Horsefield is executive director of Community Futures North Okanagan in Vernon — another city that was left off the list.
She said her community is building at a good pace, but like other cities on the list remains challenged when it comes to providing the right mix of housing that people can actually afford.
“What we’re seeing happen is for professionals coming into our community, the nurse, the tile-setter, the specialized teacher, they’re coming with great jobs that are really well-paying, but those single-family homes are still out of reach,” she said.
“We need to build more diverse options in our community, including duplexes and fourplexes, apartments, single-level ranchers for some of the elderly folks coming in — that diversity is going to be really important in us being able to house and maintain not only our current population, but bring in skilled workers.”
Kahlon stressed that the list was not a final product, and that the province was focused on ensuring cities who do get targets produce a variety of housing options including one- to three-bedroom units and homes for downsizing seniors.
As for the types of building challenges Yan highlighted that might be out of the government’s control, he said he was confident zoning changes would still have an outsized effect.
“We do have a labour shortage, we know there will be pressure on how many units we can produce, but that’s why the work we are doing around small-scale multi units is so important,” he said.
“If one house comes down and the builder’s building just one single family home, we’re not going to make the gain we need.”