On May 31, the NDP Premier David Eby announced that 10 cities would need to step up and meet specified housing targets as part of the new Homes for People housing plan. Among these 10 cities were two communities in the Fraser Valley: Abbotsford and Delta.
The Housing Supply Act sets housing targets for municipalities using a carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot for municipalities that meet those targets comes in the form of provincial cash for amenities, such as parks, bike lanes and recreation centres. For those that don’t meet the targets, the stick is the threat of being overruled by the province, which has the power to rezone entire neighbourhoods to create more density.
In addition to the two Fraser Valley communities, the list also included Kamloops, Port Moody, Saanich, Vancouver, Victoria and the districts of North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Oak Bay.
Several of these cities generally have very little opposition on respective councils to increased density, such as Vancouver, Victoria, Port Moody and even Abbotsford. Meanwhile, North Vancouver, Saanich and Oak Bay are notorious for a strong anti-development sentiment.
However, the plan doesn’t really say HOW cities should push for density nor have they released the details of the number of units each municipality is expected to hit. While I’m less concerned with the latter, the former is concerning.
Politicians and council members may be able to block or slow development, but the power to increase development is limited. Some red tape in government is done for a reason. We have already seen the NDP remove the necessity for public hearings if a project meets the base requirements of the OCP or NCP/NP. So what if those OCP and NCPs are really bad? It doesn’t matter – removing citizen engagement and potential for improvement from the process was the first element of this.
Many developers are also lobbying for much less strict environmental requirements, suggesting that fisheries, wildlife and ecological concerns should be secondary to increase in development. Considering the aforementioned issue that we have with out of date OCPs that have low density allowances for suburban sprawl, this is very problematic.
One way that local governments CAN stir more development is to cut down on Development Cost Charges and Community Amenity Contributions. I would argue that is one reason the Township of Langley was so attractive to build in over the last decade. Why pay a premium in land values and fees/taxes, when you can get relatively cheap greenfield land with taxpayer subsidized infrastructure? Add to that, the NDP removed the tolls on a relatively new massive Port Mann bridge, which made commuting between the more expensive land to the west and the less expensive land to the east cheaper and quicker. It is no surprise that in the years then since that removal that home prices in the Fraser Valley have quickly started to catch up to many Greater Vancouver communities. This is a concern because if these cities are forced to build more, they may use incentives such as taxpayer subsidies or incur municipal debt to attract developers.
I’m not against the policy. I just hope that when the details are released, that the “carrot and stick” method comes with some guidelines that are a lot better than some of the policies that were enacted during the Horgan years.