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North Shore mayors react to 4,000+ new housing targets

The province says the district of West Van and North Vancouver must see through to completion more than 4,000 new strata and rental homes
Workers on a platform attach a piece of construction material to a new building at the Apex at Seylynn Village development in June, 2023. The province of B.C. has set targets for the District of North Vancouver and District of West Vancouver to complete 4,000 new homes in five years. | Nick Laba / North Shore News

The province says the District of West Vancouver and District of North Vancouver must see through to completion more than 4,000 new strata and rental homes in the next five years.

B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon released the housing targets this week for 10 municipalities on the so-called “naughty list” for failing to get enough new housing built amid the unaffordability crisis.

Of the more-than 60,000 new units included in the B.C. targets, 1,432 are to be from the District of West Vancouver. The targets further break down the number of bedrooms and the tenure the new homes should have. In West Van’s case, 58 per cent should be one-bedroom or studio apartments, the province says. The provincial directive says that 69 per cent of the new units should be purpose-built rentals, almost half of which should be at below-market rates. And West Vancouver should also be home to at least 39 new units of supportive housing.

The District of North Vancouver, meanwhile, should be handing out a minimum of 2,838 new occupancy permits between now and 2028, the ministry says. Just under half of those (46 per cent) should be strata units, with the majority of the 2,838 new homes being purpose-built rentals. At least 42 per cent, or 657, of those rentals should be at below-market rates. And the district should approve another 78 units of supportive housing that includes onsite staff.

Based on the rolling average of housing completions over the last five years, District of North Vancouver council is likely on pace to meet the province’s target for net new units.

West Vancouver, though, will have to step up its rate of housing completions by about 20 per cent over historical trends based on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data (although that data counts gross completions, not net, so it would include redevelopment of existing homes). According to the CMHC, West Vancouver had 2,285 housing starts between 2013 and 2022, but more than half – 1,313 – were for new single-family homes.

In the last 10 years, West Vancouver has averaged 108 new apartment unit starts per year. The new provincial targets call for them to complete an average of 286 per year for the next five years.

West Vancouver reacts

West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager said the numbers are achievable.

There are only a few small projects waiting for council’s approval in the pre-application phase, Sager said, but the local area plan for Ambleside’s revitalization is nearing completion, and the planning process for Taylor Way is under way.

Later this fall, council will likely vote on approval for Cypress Village, a new mixed-use neighbourhood with 3,000 units to be built in phases on Cypress Bowl Road, and council recently approved a 201-unit rental building on Clyde Avenue, he noted. And the Kiwanis North Shore Housing Society has approval to build a six-storey, below-market rental building on Gordon Avenue, although council is asking the province for funding to cover the development cost charges.

Sager said the minister has indicated that if municipalities aren’t delivering new housing projects, the province will simply mandate them, “which would be a real fight.”

“It is the responsibility of the local government to make wise land-use decisions that work based on the ability of the community to absorb new construction and infrastructure that works,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t think [mandates are] going to be necessary, so it’s not something I’m going to lose sleep over.”

Regardless of how many new units council approves, it will be up to the private sector to decide how much gets delivered and on what schedule, Sager said. Rising interest rates and labour costs will certainly be a factor in that, he added.

“This is something that the province is going to have to realize that’s out of everybody’s control,” he said “People aren’t going to build things unless there’s somebody that will rent or buy them at the end of the day. That’s just the market reality.”

North Vancouver reacts

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little said the provincial housing targets are pretty much in line with his municipality’s rolling average for completions over the last five years, which won’t be a challenge to continue. But, he said, the province can’t expect any municipality to bring on so many below-market rental units on their own.

“The gross numbers we can achieve,” Little said. “The ratio of non-market units will be a big challenge without further provincial and federal financial support.”

And, Little added, there are many other factors that council has to consider beyond the province’s housing targets.

“As we’re receiving pressure from the provincial government to build more, we still aren’t receiving the corresponding supports needed in infrastructure to accommodate more growth,” he said. “There’s still no commitment from the province or federal government for addressing our transportation infrastructure deficit, nor commitment to rapid transit improvement to the North Shore.”

Expert opinion

Andy Yan, director of SFU’s City Program, said he appreciated that the province broke down the number of bedrooms, rentals, strata and non-market units that were in the targets – but he expressed similar concerns about how they might be delivered.

“They’re not playing checkers. They’re playing chess,” he said. “The other side of this is how the province and the federal government will turn up.”

More than meeting the province’s expectation to having plenty of new housing stock coming online, Yan noted that councils also have to be mindful of where it goes and how it functions within the wider community, its services and infrastructure and transportation.

“Housing is hard,” he said with a laugh. “It's hard because it’s not only the immediate site issue, but it’s how it links up to a system.”

Yan said the province has been taking important steps to speed up housing approvals at the provincial level and cut back on red tape, but he also cautioned that the construction industry itself is likely running at capacity already.

“Where are they going to get the labour? And we already know that supply chains are a bit stretched,” he said. “Be very careful, because there could be any number of reasons why a target isn’t met, and a lot of them could be outside of the controls of the municipality.”

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