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B.C. names 10 cities for faster development to help address housing crisis

VANCOUVER — British Columbia will set housing targets for 10 municipalities in an effort to tackle the provincial housing crisis by fast-tracking development.
B.C. Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon speaks during an event to celebrate the opening of a rental apartment building, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Kahlon says more homes will be built sooner under a plan to set construction targets in 10 cities or municipalities in an effort to fast track development. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — British Columbia will set housing targets for 10 municipalities in an effort to tackle the provincial housing crisis by fast-tracking development.

Housing Ministry Ravi Kahlon said Tuesday the province will set construction targets for housing in Vancouver, the districts of West Vancouver and North Vancouver, Delta, Port Moody, Abbotsford, Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich and Kamloops.

"We're taking action with our partners to cut red tape and get homes built faster for people," Kahlon told a news conference in Vancouver.

The aim is to make it easier for municipalities to approve projects quickly by encouraging them to address local barriers to construction, including updating zoning laws and streamlining local development approval processes, he said.

The first 10 communities were singled out through "an objective, thorough and measured process" that factored in metrics, including projected growth, housing and land availability, affordability, community infrastructure and "unrealized potential" in developing more homes, the minister said.

The targets won't be released to the public until later this summer, but Housing Ministry staff will meet with the chosen cities in the next few weeks to allow them to assess the proposed targets, Kahlon said.

"I do suspect that you'll see policies shifting in these communities fairly quickly."

The province has engaged economists and other experts in the private sector to help develop the targets, Kahlon said, describing them as "expansive," going deeper than simply providing a number of new units each city should build.

"It will be more than just units. We know communities need one-, two-, three-bedroom units for families," as well as low-income housing, he said.

If communities have challenges in making progress on the housing targets, Kahlon said the province may appoint an independent adviser or step in to make decisions.

"After six months, we want to see if progress is being made, if work is happening in good faith, and I expect that to be the case with most communities," he said.

Kahlon said some B.C. communities have "hidden from growth," in an approach that's "not acceptable" during a housing crisis.

"We need all communities to participate. We're going to engage with the local governments that perhaps are not happy to be on the list and find ways to move forward, because they even know that they're having challenges," he said.

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said the city needs more of every type of housing, from supportive units to rental homes to home ownership that's more affordable.

The city has taken steps to digitize its permitting process, streamline its development application and review processes, and its council recently voted to prioritize housing applications based on the highest number of new units, he said.

"As the largest city in the province, we have a responsibility to lead by example," Sim told the news conference, where he joined Kahlon for the announcement.

Thomas Davidoff, director of the University of British Columbia's Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, said the provincial targets won't lead to "cheap housing in the next year," but they will start the process of improving affordability.

"The affected municipalities will have to start producing improved land-use processes, so that leads to permissions, and that, you know, in relatively short order, leads to a start of construction," he told the news conference.

Davidoff said the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is soon launching a housing accelerator fund for communities, and he expects those that move quickly toward their targets will be "on the front of the line" for the federal funding.

Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said the provincial targets will consider not just total supply, but also the supply of affordable housing.

"Creating the right conditions for non-profit and co-op housing in these communities will allow municipalities to send a signal to provincial and federal governments that we're ready for your investment and we can act on it quickly." Atkey said.

The government's power to set the housing targets stems from the Housing Supply Act passed last fall, when it also announced amendments to end strata bylaws restricting owners from renting their units and to limit adult-only age restrictions in certain buildings, except in housing for seniors.

The province launched its so-called Homes for People plan in April, starting with a $4-billion investment over three years and committing to $12 billion in the next decade.

It includes incentives to build and increase density, plans for supportive housing, zoning changes to allow secondary suites across the province, a crack down on house flippers and income-tested financial support for renters.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press