Every aspiring local politician promises to speed up the approval process at City Hall. Critics identify delay and ‘red tape’ as one of the major reasons for housing unaffordability. Tasks force, reviews and reports are undertaken with regularity. But the popular perception remains: City Hall is chocked with red tape, unreasonable delay and little progress.
So this report in The Hive seems to be a big deal. “City of Vancouver makes progress on clearing big backlog of new home applications.”
… as of today, according to a release, 450 applications (out of 500) are now being processed, and the remaining applications are back with the proponents, as more information is needed to complete the review. …
Review time per application for single-family, duplex, and laneway homes have been reduced by 75%, leading to a 300% increase in applications processed. Applicants are now contacted within two to three business days from application submission — a drastic improvement that is 15 to 16 weeks faster, which provides immensely greater certainty that the application is in-stream to be reviewed. As well, the initial plan review now occurs during application intake, and is two weeks quicker than before.
Other improvements include laneway home applications now seeing their initial review three months faster, and the direct-to-inspections process now issuing permits in as little as two weeks for simple renovations — seven weeks faster than previous.
Those are extraordinary numbers. Which raises a few questions:
- What did the City do to make such dramatic changes?
- Could they have been done before – or are there new conditions which made them possible?
- Are they permanent?
- Will they have a tangible effect on the housing crisis?
In any event, let’s put cynicism aside long enough to give some credit where it’s due, and recognize that government is capable of significant reform. With respect to housing challenges, things can get better.
As an architect who has submitted taken housing permit applications through more than 15 different jurisdictions, I have to say Vancouver has always been the worst, so this new news is good news.
I’m not expecting much, however. Vancouver has announced new procedures to speed things up many times before and nothing much changes. Hilariously, the last time they announced a big change was 5 years ago or so when they realized their appointment system was dysfunctional so they were reintroducing walk-in applications. They said people who had already received appointment dates could keep them or they could walk in. The appointment I was waiting for was for June. It was January. I joked with my client that we should just wait for June because it was raining that January and it would be nicer for me not to get wet when I went to see them.
By comparison, I was going to submit a permit application in Sonoma County, California, a few years ago. The permit person apologized for the delays they were experiencing because of all the applications they had received in the wake of the wildfire that had burned down 7,000 houses. She said that under normal circumstances I could expect a two week turnaround on a permit but because of the fire it might take as long as 3 weeks, or perhaps 4.
I’ve always suspected the bulk of blame sits with Councils who have directly and indirectly instructed staff to delay applications so their political fallout can be gauged and/or managed. If a development application proceeds, individual councilors will eventually have to make a decision on it. If this is true, then perhaps either the Mayor or Council have finally decided that to appear to not do their jobs hurts them more than to appear to do them.
Perhaps the explosive growth in planning department staff has provided the necessary labour.
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