Premier David Eby continues to promise reforms that will deliver “results that people will be able to see and feel in their lives,” but he unveiled another housing change this week that may take many months to show visible results, if at all.
The latest announcement was Monday, when the NDP government unveiled a “one-stop approach” to provincial permits for housing projects.
Most new housing is tied up in red tape at the municipal level, where the lengthy rezoning, public hearing and council approval processes can add years to new developments. There are delays from the B.C. government as well, in the areas of permits for streams, roads, water licensing and heritage inspections.
It can take up to 22 months for the province to relocate a ditch as part of road widening for a new condo or apartment building, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association reported in 2021.
“This is an incredibly long period that significantly impedes project timelines,” the organization wrote in a discussion paper.
Eby said an influx of 42 new full-time staff into the new office will help move high-priority housing projects all the way through ministries’ silos in the areas of land, water and transportation.
“On many occasions I’ve asked municipalities to speed up housing applications to get more people into new homes faster,” he said. “It’s only right if we’re looking to them, that we also look to ourselves.”
But the timelines remain sobering.
“The current average wait time, as I understand it, for provincial permits is about two years,” said Eby.
“And so the goal is to reduce that dramatically to, ultimately, a goal of months for approval.”
That’s not the only uncomfortable timeline.
Last week’s big announcement on a $500 million fund to help buy rental buildings desperately needs right-of-first refusal legislation, so government can get first crack at buying the property for fair market value, rather than entering into bidding wars with deep-pocketed private investment firms.
But that legislation won’t be ready this year. So the much-hyped rental fund will be of limited use until 2024.
It’s the same story for marquee housing legislation. The law gives the province the power to bigfoot municipalities who are failing to meet housing targets and approve much-needed housing projects to get shovels in the ground.
It was portrayed as bold action that necessitated the premier acting quickly in the last week of November’s legislative session. Yet legislation won’t come into force until April, consultation won’t begin with municipalities until June, and then reporting on actual housing targets won’t start until December.
When could the province actually override a municipality and get something done? 2024, at the earliest.
In the one housing policy that has produced immediate change – a ban on rental restrictions for stratas – confusion quickly followed.
Some stratas aren’t sure whether short-term rentals are allowed (it depends on which municipality you live in and what, if any, rules it happens to have around Airbnb and vacation rentals). Others have tried to convert into seniors’ buildings, in a bid to prevent young families from becoming tenants under the new law.
The solution is clear, consistent tools for municipal regulation of short-term vacation rentals. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he’s working on that with municipalities. But it won’t be introduced until later this year as well, which puts implementation off until 2024 as well.
In the end, it’s still possible all of these moving parts coalesce into a substantive reform to B.C.’s housing sector, which will dramatically increase supply, stabalize prices and lower rents.
The gamble New Democrats are making is not whether the public will actually be able to “see and feel” any change on these housing reforms any time soon, but whether they will land just in time for the October 2024 provincial election.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.