March 8, 2022

What Does B.C.’s Minister of Housing Have in Mind for Housing Approvals? Ken Cameron Weighs In


It’s clear that B.C. Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing, David Eby intends to intervene in municipal government decision-making regarding housing approvals, certainly with respect to the time it takes – and maybe more. Some will support, some will disagree with particulars (or the need to act more decisively), but there will certainly be discussion on the provincial government interfering in one of the essential roles of local government, and the impacts right down to the Neighbourhood level and people’s housing choices.

Yesterday Sandy James wrote about Andy Yan’s data  pointing out that in British Columbia there have been more houses built in the last three years than any other three year time in the last two decades. That increase in housing units has not lowered costs, suggesting it is not more supply of housing that is needed, but targeting the type of housing to be built.

We thought we’d add to the discussion by asking informed commentators for their insights – here is  Ken Cameron, past strategic planner for the GVRD (Metro Vancouver).

As you know, housing is but one component of a livable community. The trade-offs between housing and other values such as neighbourhood character, provision of convenient employment, schools and open space should be made through a community planning process guided, in my model, by a coherent regional growth strategy that provides projections of population, housing demand and land consumption in which all the numbers add up on a regional basis.

In the absence of such an overarching framework, housing proposals become hostages to forces such as the tendency of planning departments to impose exactions (the City of Vancouver has raised this to a fine art) and the exploitation by neighbours of the opportunities to resist change when they provide public input in the hearings required by site-by-site zoning and development approval processes.

We should be able to look to the current draft Metro 2050 regional growth strategy to see whether it provides any guidance (discipline?) to local municipalities on housing needs and targets. While affordable housing is given prominence in this document, particularly in areas well served by transit, the closest it gets to a regional framework for the production of housing is the promise of “aspirational targets for the federation to work towards for affordable housing near transit.” Tables in the main document propose percentage allocations of what residential growth occurs to various areas such as the urban core and regional centres.

This is a far cry from answering the basic questions such as: “How much housing of what type will the population need by 2050?” and “How will this housing be provided on the land base in a way that reflects our social, economic and environmental values?” Specific numerical answers to these questions are needed if the region and its communities are to be accountable for progress toward housing goals.

Local elected representatives can be expected to resist vociferously any attempt by the Province to override their local land-use regulations and powers. They – and their electors – correctly see the power over land use as an essential lever in protecting and enhancing community. Any provincial intervention with a hope of success politically will have to work within that framework through incentives, targets, timelines, etc. rather than a heavier-handed approach.

From the comments by the Minister of Housing in the media, I get the impression that the Province feels that softer solutions have not produced results and that more directive approaches are needed.

None of this allows us to escape the basic dynamics of the housing problem, which is too much money chasing a limited amount of land. Our generation brought this on in part because we wanted to welcome the world with our Expo and Olympics and to encourage people to invest and come here, which they did, and in the process they have made a city that is better in many respects.

As a result, the usual correlation between family incomes and the cost of housing found in most cities has been broken in Metro Vancouver. I can’t see how or when it will ever be restored.”

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  1. Tara Carman, CBC has an interesting post on Co-ops. Why aren’t we considering more of these, or the idea of council housing as was built extensively in Britain?

  2. I think Eby is more looking at municipalities outside of Vancouver which have been a lot more restrictive in their zoning and development. Although Vancouver has it’s issues, recently it has been trending towards approvals and ignoring minority opposition. A maximum permitting timeline should be implemented in Vancouver though, and province may be able to make that legislation.

    Other municipalities in the province are in much worse shape. Whistler employees are living in stairwells, people in Prince Rupert have to live in vans or RVs as they work at the port. Rent in many small towns are higher than Vancouver, and housing prices are reaching $1M. And these towns don’t have any laneways, basement suits, duplexes, or small apartments. They also don’t have the jobs to support rents like that. People moving to Fernie to work at the mine can’t afford $1M homes.

    Even the cities in the metro area is very restrictive. Cities like Burnaby have a much worse missing middle than Vancouver, where they don’t have duplexes or laneways, but have 80 story buildings in the industrial areas.

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