It seems the City of Vancouver is making some headway in reducing building permit approval wait times following the introduction of some early changes and reforms last year.
The municipal government says 75% of low-density housing permits are now reviewed in under 12 weeks. Through a recently launched pilot project, permitting processing for single-family and laneway homes is now just six weeks — down from 28 to 38 weeks — for a pre-approved group of “experienced designers.”
The permitting department is also improving its efficiency as over 230 staff will be trained in new development policies and procedures. As well, to tackle the increase in volume of applications, the municipal government hired 42 new staff in 2018 and a further 43 new hires are planned for this year. According to the city, the volume of rezoning applications alone has doubled since 2010.
Wait times for the Development Permit Office’s Service Centre have gone down by a third on average in 2018.
Development permit approvals for affordable housing have also been fast-tracked to 12 weeks, with 900 affordable housing units approved to date under a separate pilot.
Further changes and initiatives will be rolled out throughout 2019, including moving more permit applications online, simplifying regulations, simplifying the city’s website information, improve the commercial renovation permitting process, clarifying the community amenity contribution process, and further improvements to the Service Centre.
“Speeding up the permitting process helps reduce costs and increase certainty for projects, especially for urgently needed affordable housing,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart in a statement.
“By increasing staff, reducing red tape and moving more of our processes online we are better serving small- and-medium sized developers and homeowners, and I’m looking forward to seeing continued results as more improvements are put into place.”
In recent years, backlogs in building permits have sent approval times soaring to about two years, resulting in real consequences to housing supply and the cost of construction.
For instance, delays have inhibited property owners from utilizing their properties for an intended revenue-generating purpose, while still paying for property taxes.
Long delays have also led to a mismatch in the original budgets set aside for construction, with years-long permitting delays sending development costs upwards due to the inflation in labour and material prices during the approval waiting period.
When it comes to building policies, some of the city’s newer policies even conflicts with older policies, leading to confusion for both applicants and city staff.
Following public and industry consultation, staff will report to city council on recommendations for new policies and processes by this summer. If approved, new reforms could be implemented sometime in the third quarter of 2019.
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