Challenges of B.C.’s new housing initiatives

Having trouble keeping up with all the Government announcements pertaining to housing? We came across this great article in the Western Investor on December 4, 2023, summarizing the housing initiatives the BC Government is implementing over the next few months and the challenges they pose. Have a read:

Now that Premier David Eby has passed a generational change in housing policy, public attention is shifting to how it will all actually roll-out in the real world.

Implementing five major new housing laws is complex, to say the least. Timelines are all over the place for municipalities, developers and homeowners.

Generally, though, it looks like this:

Municipal public hearing ban: Now
Municipal developer financing changes: Now
Short-term rental restrictions: May 1, 2024
Transit hub condo towers: June 30, 2024
Multiplexes on single family lots: July 1, 2024
Secondary suites legal across B.C.: July 1, 2024
New municipal Housing Needs Reports: Dec. 31, 2024
New municipal Official Community Plans: Dec. 31, 2025
Homeless shelter definition changes: Unknown
That’s a lot to process.

“I don't blame you if you're tired of seeing my face — there has been a significant amount of work that's happened over the last few months to ensure that we have the housing we need,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, who has been a daily news fixture in pumping out all the housing bills at the legislature.

“It's a real testament, I believe, to the commitment we have to address the housing crisis.”

Public Hearings (Bill 44)

The changes to public hearings and municipal financing occurred the moment Lieut.-Gov. Janet Austin gave royal assent to Bill 44 on Nov. 30.

Municipalities can no longer hold public hearings on rezoning applications for housing projects that fit into the local official community plan. The move is designed to put an end to the not-in-my-backyard campaigns that pressured some local councils to reject housing projects in areas already earmarked for density growth under long-term community planning.

Critics, though, say it silences neighbourhood residents and removes key oversight and accountability powers from locally-elected councils.

Also immediate are changes to development financial rules (Bill 46), which impact how municipalities can charge community amenity contributions and levy development cost charges on housing projects. It’s a complex issue, and opinions are divided.

Short-term rentals (Bill 35)

The government’s crackdown on short-term rentals begins May 1, 2024, restricting people in urban areas to only renting their principal residences on Airbnb-style sites. It also revokes grandfathered permissions on some condo buildings. The province has promised to create a new enforcement unit by the spring to levy fines of up to $3,000 per day, as well as launch a new database of legal operators by the end of the year.

Eby has said the changes will drive more people to either sell their vacation rentals or rent them long-term to locals. But it has sparked anger by some investors who say they will take financial losses, as well as concern about a drop in accommodation spaces in communities without enough hotels to handle large gatherings like concerts and sporting events.

Transit density (Bill 47)

Less contentious changes to density around transit hubs kick in June 30, 2024, which will allow condo towers up to 10 storeys near bus exchanges in cities like Victoria and Kamloops, and up to 20 storeys near SkyTrain stations in Metro Vancouver. The legal changes forbid municipalities from rejecting such projects, and were supported by all parties in the legislature.

Single-family lot multiplexes (Bill 44)

Perhaps the largest housing change begins July 1, 2024, when single-family lots in urban areas with more than 5,000 people will automatically be up-zoned to allow up to four homes. The move largely cuts out local government and also legalizes secondary suites provincewide.

It is also the most controversial of the Eby government’s new housing laws, with Green MLA Adam Olsen arguing it quadruples the wealth of existing owners, with no guarantees any of the new units they build will be affordable.

Regulations on traffic, setbacks and other neighbourhood-changing elements are expected soon, Kahlon has said. Urban planners and developers who back the move say it has the potential to unlock new density, construction and supply.

The government estimates the change could build 130,000 new units over the next 10 years, and reduce the price of homes by as much as 14 per cent by 2029 — though it has refused to release the economic modelling that backs those estimates.

“The legislation obviously is very important,” said Kahlon. “But there are still a lot of market conditions such as interest rates, global inflation, that puts pressure on housing. But we will be making all that information public so that everyone can see what we believe can be the outcome of the legislation that we brought forward.”

The government’s estimated impact is wildly unrealistic, say critics.

“Look at what's happened in California that introduced legislation very similar to Bill 44, which we opposed,” said BC United Leader Kevin Falcon.

“Look at the results. They're very, very poor. There's virtually been no take-up. Same in Portland, Oregon. Same with Auckland, New Zealand. The only thing we saw in Auckland, New Zealand, was a rise in property values, which is part of the unintended consequences government hasn't thought about.”

Municipal planning (Bill 44)

Less high-profile new requirements concern municipal planning. The province will issue guidance in January for how municipalities should prepare new Housing Needs Reports, which are due by the end of 2024.

Every municipality will also be required to update their official community plans to forecast for the next 20 years, instead of the current five. The deadline for that is Dec. 31, 2025 — in recognition of how much public input is expected given people no longer have the rezoning process to express concerns.

Homeless shelter spaces (Bill 45)

One legal change that does not have an implementation date is government’s attempt to define what constitutes a shelter space. It was supposed to make it easier for municipalities to get court injunctions to clear tent encampments in public spaces by defining a shelter space as a bed, shower, meal and supervision. The goal was to address an increase in judges rejecting injunctions by saying shelter spaces should also accommodate things like shopping carts, mental health concerns, pets and drug use.

Eby passed the legislation, but said it won’t be enacted until he reaches a consensus with the Union of BC Municipalities, which says the definition will make it harder to get injunctions, and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which says it does not take into consideration a human right approach.

One other date worth adding to the mix amidst all this: The next provincial election, Oct. 19, 2024.

Depending on the outcome, a lot of these dates may accelerate, shift or be scrapped entirely.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 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, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.