Opinion: Upcoming summit on the state of housing in BC provides opportunity for bold action

Mar 28 2023, 9:14 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Dylan Kruger, a city councillor with the City of Delta.

As the third month of 2023 is coming to a close, the Metro Vancouver housing market continues its prolonged state of crisis.

Experts are predicting that a multitude of factors, including rising variable mortgage rates, a rapidly growing population, record low vacancy rates, and supply chain challenges in the residential construction market will continue to increase the cost of rent for Vancouver residents.

The millennial generation, which now dominates the workforce and is the main driving factor of Canada’s GDP growth, increasingly feels uneasy about their ability to ever own a home, let alone find a reasonable place to rent and raise a family. Between 2002 and 2022, median rents in the region have doubled, while vacancy rates remain among record lows, and well below a healthy 3%.

Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver is expected to grow by at least a million people by the year 2050, and municipalities are at the front lines of the battle to create desperately needed new housing stock throughout the region.

We are now over five months past the last municipal election, where elected officials across the province, myself included, campaigned on reducing permit application times to get more needed housing stock online as quickly as possible. Are we on the right path to achieving our goals?

According to Metro Vancouver Regional District’s newly released Housing Data Book, while housing construction has increased in the past decade, it is nowhere near the historical per capita construction levels of the 1970s. Despite initiatives to build more supportive housing, the number of households in our region in “core housing need” has increased by over 10,000 since the year 2016.

metro vancouver housing statistics cmhc 2

Statistics Canada, CMHC

metro vancouver housing statistics cmhc 2

Statistics Canada, CMHC

The new premier, David Eby, and his housing minister, Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon, have made their expectations clear that they are leaning on municipalities to approve a lot more housing. Kahlon, who says his priorities are “speed, supply, and synergy,” has given municipalities new tools to do so.

Here in Delta, Mayor George Harvie and our council were among the first in the province to implement the measures of Bill 26, which allows municipalities to skip public hearings for projects that conform with our provincially mandated Official Community Plans. After all, what’s the point of having these plans if we don’t move to make it easier to approve projects that align with them?

While the premier is focused on carrots, rather than sticks, he has also hinted at new enforcement measures to aid less willing municipal leaders in approving their fair share of housing.

Will British Columbia follow neighbouring jurisdictions like Ontario, California, and New Zealand which have moved to centralize many zoning and housing approval decisions to bypass NIMBY councils? Or will municipalities rise to the challenge and pump out the units needed to address existing suppressed demand, not to mention future demand due to forecasted growth?

Now is the time for innovation and collaboration among municipal colleagues. I’m pleased that the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has put together a Housing Summit to do just that. From April 4 to 5, 2023, municipal leaders from across British Columbia will join Premier Eby, Minister Kahlon, and opposition leaders for two days to share ideas and discuss new opportunities for partnership.

We will also hear from experts on such topics as labour shortages and supply chain disruptions, densification and upzoning, homelessness, Indigenous housing partnerships, immigration, and short-term rental regulations. I’m excited that UBCM has provided this urgently needed forum, and impressed by the amount of content they have managed to pack into such a short timeframe.

Despite all of the challenges before us, I remain optimistic. Never before have I heard so many voices in municipal, provincial, and federal government, all from across the political spectrum, in agreement on the need to address the housing shortage with new, innovative, and bold ideas.

The Premier and Housing Minister are looking for solutions they can drive from the top.  That’s fine – but our challenge and opportunity in local government are to drive the solutions from the grassroots up. That will lead to more innovation, diversity of thought, and, ultimately, solutions for a wider range of people.

Here’s hoping this UBCM Summit propels those ideas forward and transforms them into action.

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