Home Business & Economy Housing Building permit centralization aiming to speed up housing construction

Building permit centralization aiming to speed up housing construction

Monday January 16, 2023 | VANCOUVER, BC

by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends


What BC calls a ‘new permitting strategy’ was announced today, as part of Premier Eby’s NDP government hoping to help build homes faster. This is part of addressing the ongoing housing crisis in BC where people either cannot find and/or cannot afford a home, whether to own or rent.

Today in Vancouver, Premier David Eby shared the political podium with Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resources Management, as well as Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.

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Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon at BC government’s permitting process announcement, Jan 16, 2023 in North Vancouver. [livestream]

There was also a speaker from Townline — their CEO Rick Ilich, who leads a company that builds in directions that the government supports. “The housing shortage is a major contributor to an affordability imbalance throughout the province and has been a long time in the making. It will take policy changes, action and co-operation from every level of government to make real change,” said Ilich.

And the Mayor of the City of North Vancouver, Linda Buchanan, said she hopes the government takes her municipality’s lead as to digitization and streamlining of permit processing times, something that evolved during the pandemic when interpersonal contact was limited but construction was deemed an essential service.

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Townline CEO Rick Ilich addresses media about the role of permitting in the housing crisis, as Premier David Eby looks on. [Jan 16, 2023 / North Vancouver / livestream]

Other municipalities have led the way in permitting processing efficiencies, including the City of Langford which for years has been building more homes than most other municipalities in Greater Victoria and across BC (partly driven by the Capital Regional District’s Regional Growth Strategy that has pushed housing development to the west shore beyond the core areas of Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay).

New one-stop approach:

The new one-stop-shop approach to provincial permitting will aim to help speed up approvals and construction to build more homes.

The Permitting Strategy for Housing is supported by an initial investment of 42 new full-time positions. Once those positions are filled, the team can be increased to 203 positions.

Process may lead, what will follow?

Streamlining the permitting process will help during the housing crisis. What was not really addressed today is how to motivate developers to build what is needed — in some municipalities that would be purpose-built rental, which is generally less popular among developer because it is less profitable.

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Premier David Eby at his permitting process announcement, Jan 16, 2023 in North Vancouver. [livestream]

Premier Eby today (and in his last few media sessions) did list off a number of housing availability improvements that his government has spearheaded in his first 50+ days in office. That would be topped by creating a standalone BC housing ministry, as well as his intention to see housing focused in areas that need growth and increased density, freeing up condo spaces that were restricted by sublease bylaws, creating new living spaces in the downtown east side, and increasing Residential Tenancy Act staffing resources.

Cross-ministry:

Provincial housing-related development authorizations and permits fall across several ministries: Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Forests, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Water, Land and Resource Stewardship.

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Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, Nathan Cullen, at the BC government’s permitting centralization announcement in North Vancouver, Jan 16, 2023. [livestream]

Minister Cullen said that tackling the backlog of building permit requests includes looking at how the permitting process is being done as well as how quickly that can be achieved. He said that decision-makers, IT experts and others are involved in the transitional improvement of the permitting process that he says is currently “inconsistent”.

Cullen heralded the creation of a “bridge between all ministries” and the creation of a “single window for permitting applications”.

The Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship is leading the Housing Action Task Force and cross-government work to improve timing and transparency of permitting processes to support sustainable economic development, housing and infrastructure, while maintaining high levels of environmental protection.

“Having dedicated resources and a cross-ministry team prioritizing housing permits means we can make significantly more progress on getting British Columbians the housing they need,” said Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship. “Establishing a single-application approach is an investment that will deliver more housing for people faster, and this will also result in immediate and future benefits for the entire natural resources sector.”

Setting targets:

Recent progress on housing includes changes to the Housing Supply Act to set targets in municipalities with the greatest need as well as to the Strata Property Act to open up more rental options and more housing for families.

Today Kahlon said eight to 10 municipalities will be the focus of an upcoming announcement (in the next few months) where the province feels more housing development should take place. Those might be communities where housing development is already well underway as well as some areas that have worked to keep out new development, said Kahlon.

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Turning things around:

“Every British Columbian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. Unfortunately, this simply wasn’t a priority for more than a decade,” said Premier David Eby. “As we turn things around and start to build record levels of housing, we are taking action today to remove obstacles to constructing new homes that families desperately need.”

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Currently, authorizations related to homebuilding in B.C. can require multiple provincial permit applications spanning different ministries with different processes. This includes permits related to riparian area approvals, water licences, transportation approvals, road rezonings, contaminated sites, and requirements for heritage inspections.

Streamlining the process:

The new Permitting Strategy for Housing will streamline the process and create a single, co-ordinated approach to housing-related permits and authorization. This will speed up the process and eliminate the need for multiple applications across ministries.

While the single application window is being established over the coming months, permit and authorization decisions will be expedited through a cross-ministry team focused solely on processing housing permits. The Housing Action Task Force includes decision-makers, information technology systems, project managers and policy support teams working together to speed up processing.

A coordinated provincial approach is also expected to make application reviews more streamlined for First Nations, which are consulted on each provincial authorization.

Government priorities:

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The Permitting Strategy for Housing is supported by an initial investment of 42 new full-time positions.

It will prioritize the housing that most urgently needs to be built, said Eby today. That will include Indigenous-led projects, BC Housing applications and multiple-unit applications.

“Priority will also be given to authorizations and permit approvals for housing projects in municipalities that are subject to the speculation and vacancy tax, because they have the greatest housing shortages, lowest vacancy rates and most demand for housing,” it was stated in today’s January 16, 2023 news release issued jointly from the Premier’s office, Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, and Ministry of Housing.

“Housing is a top priority for British Columbians and our government,” said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Housing.

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“We are working with municipalities to get more housing built faster. At the same time, we recognize that as a Province we have work to do to speed up our approvals. This new permitting approach is an important step in providing the homes people need.”

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mary p brooke
Mary P Brooke, Editor, Island Social Trends

Island Social Trends is a local and regional news service in the west shore of south Vancouver Island.

This journalism service has been operating since 2008 in the west shore: first as MapleLine Magazine 2008-2010, then Sooke Voice News 2011-2013, then West Shore Voice News 2014-2020, then emerging fully online mid-2020 at islandsocialtrends.ca

The editor and publisher of Island Social Trends is Mary P Brooke.

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