The president of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) is praising a provincial government overhaul of the permitting process for constructing new homes.
Jen Ford said the promised “one-stop shop” eliminating the need for multiple applications across multiple ministries will simplify and streamline approvals.
“This is something our members have been asking for a very long time and I think this will go hand-in-hand with a lot of the approval processes that local governments are working on to really speed up the approval process,” Ford said.
Premier David Eby announced the streamlined process Monday morning. Land and Resource Minister Nathan Cullen and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon joined him for the Jan. 16 announcement in Vancouver. North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan and Rick Ilich, chief executive officer of Townline Homes, also attended.
“Our province is growing at an historic rate,” Eby said. “Last year, we set a record. This year, we are beating last year’s record, which was a 50-year high in terms of population growth. When you have that kind of growth in population and everybody coming here needs a place to live, we need to respond to that.”
The process currently includes permits related to riparian areas, water licences, transportation, road rezonings, contaminated sites and heritage inspections.
Ford said provincial approvals can take years and affect the municipal approval process.
“When a municipal process has to wait on that and vice versa, it slows down the process,” she said.
While Eby acknowledged media skepticism in light of similar promises by previous governments, he promised results within this government’s remaining mandate.
Without giving a specific goal, he promised permitting would no longer take an average of two years, but months.
Eby also said speeding up permitting can stimulate economic growth, calling it a competitive advantage.
Kahlon said provincial authorities are currently dealing with 21,000 permits across the system, with about five to six per cent involving housing.
A cross-ministry Housing Action Task Force under the authority of Cullen’s ministry will focus solely on those housing permits, Kahlon added. Indigenous-led projects, BC Housing applications and multiple-unit applications will receive priority, with the province set to hire 42 new full-time positions.
Cullen said earlier that the reform of the housing permit process signals a broader reform of provincial permitting.
Ford said the various housing announcements build on top each other.
“What we have seen from this government is that they are taking very seriously that housing is a crisis all over this province and they have put in a number of very important measures that will help us get more housing to families and British Columbians everywhere.”
But Ford also repeated earlier calls for additional support, specifically through a reform of the available municipal revenue sources.
“These approval are lengthy and they do require skilled staff, so anything we can do to make these quicker and help us support the cost of getting these applications through,” she said.
Leo Spalteholz, an independent real estate analyst based in Victoria, said bringing down approval times is crucial to help alleviate the housing shortage, with the proviso that provincial permitting reform is less relevant to most urban housing.
“Long delays in permitting drive up costs for both non-profit and market developers, raising rents and house prices for end users,” he said. “Long and complex permitting process also exclude smaller builders and developers who don’t have the capital and sophistication to navigate the process.
“There are several ambitious and exciting Indigenous-led projects in the Lower Mainland that will hopefully benefit from these reforms and move ahead as quickly as possible.”
But the announcement also lacked specifics, he said.
“I would prefer to see concrete targets for permitting turnarounds from the province in terms of months or length of backlog instead of just an effort to improve them,” he said.
“In addition, for most housing projects the municipal permitting process is much more significant. Though this demonstrates commitment on the part of the province to improve their own processes, I hope that mandatory maximum approval times for municipalities will be coming in a future announcement as recommended by BC’s Expert Panel on Housing Supply and Affordability.”
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