The Good, The Bad & The Maybe?

AHV Comments on Mike de Jong’s Housing Supply Proposals

BC Finance Minister Mike de Jong was in the news lately with suggestions for dealing with housing supply problems in the Lower Mainland. He has some good ideas, and some not so good ideas.  

The Good 

De Jong suggests that transit funding will be tied to high-density zoning.

With transit extensions in Surrey and Vancouver being mostly funded by senior government, it’s only fair to ask that municipal governments permit housing and commerce that will make the most use of these multi-billion dollar resources when Canadians from Sooke to St. John’s will have chipped in for them. Increasing the amount of people who can live near rapid transit will increase the number of people who can access jobs, education, and amenities through that transit, while supporting the growth of jobs and amenities that the rest of the region can access in turn.

The Minister also proposed to use provincial funding to improve the planning capacity of local governments, by sending money to cities to hire planning staff.

There are reports that permit times are growing longer across the region, and longer permitting times increase the risk and expense of homebuilding. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has previously suggested that long permit times were a problem that the city wished to address on its own, suggesting a problem that both levels of government recognize as an impediment to affordability.

The Bad

De Jong also spoke in favor of the Greater Vancouver Home Builder Association’s proposal to create a ‘fast track’ for “proven developers.”

Some people claim that there’s a “real estate cartel” operating in British Columbia. If there isn’t such a thing, then creating an official channel for priority access to building permits for favoured developers would be a way of creating one.  A fast track for proven (ie, well connected and well established) developers would give them an enormous market advantage over smaller, less well connected builders, and would tend to inhibit the effects of competition by tilting the playing field further towards the big developers.  If we are going to have a better planning process in British Columbia, it needs to work better for everyone, not just create a shortcut for the well-connected.

The Maybe?

De Jong wished to tie proposed planning funding to quicker turn-around from planning departments, suggesting that the province would pay for more planners if municipalities would commit to delivering decisions within 18 months.  

We have to ask: is a 24-month yes worse for the regional housing market than a 18-month no? Without incentives to actually approve housing, we are concerned that this may lead municipal governments to default more to ‘no’ when facing an approval deadline.   

Overall, Abundant Housing Vancouver looks favourably upon efforts to address the housing supply, but we should keep in mind that what’s good for the housing business is only sometimes good for the housing market.