As federal party leaders battle over how to increase housing supply and cool prices and rents that are already out of reach of many people, the B.C. NDP government is taking its first tentative steps to deal with slow approvals and high development costs at the municipal level.
Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne announced 43 grants for local governments Wednesday, from a $15 million fund announced in late June. Most are for online access and other paperwork modernization for development applications in a range of communities.
The maximum $500,000 grants go to communities including Nanaimo, Abbotsford, Mission, Surrey, Campbell River, Delta, Grand Forks and the Cowichan Valley Regional District. Chilliwack, Colwood, Invermere, Maple Ridge and Summerland receive smaller grants. Kelowna gets $429,458 for “artificial intelligence and chatbot development approvals process and fast-track in-fill housing.”
Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart, the B.C. Liberal housing critic, says B.C. needs stronger action, and should consider placing time limits on development approvals as Alberta and Ontario have done.
“Throwing more money at the problem doesn’t fix the fundamental flaws in our development system,” Stewart said Sept. 1. “We need to rework our development process at the legislative level so new projects don’t get tied down in red tape and NIMBYism.”
A B.C. expert panel chaired by former NDP cabinet minister Joy MacPhail had similar conclusions in a report released in June. It called for provincially-led planning to overcome a local public hearing process that “amplifies the voices of the few rather than the needs of the community at large.”
Speeding up approvals has been a B.C. project for decades, since former Social Credit minister Bill Vander Zalm vowed to cut “zoning red tape” in 1979. More than 40 years later, a C.D. Howe Institute report finds Vancouver’s housing regulation costs “by far the largest in Canada,” with limits on supply pushing costs up by more than $200,000 on average for Victoria, Kelowna and Abbotsford as well as Regina, Toronto and Ottawa.
The C.D. Howe analysis also concluded development charges such as B.C.’s “community amenity contributions” in exchange for increased zoning should be regulated by the province.