Home Business & Economy Housing Hoped-for housing explosion based on multi-unit zoning

Hoped-for housing explosion based on multi-unit zoning

Revisioning housing land use in municipalities of 5,000+

ravi kahlon, housing, bc leg
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon announcing new multi-unit zoning legislation at the BC Legislature on Nov 1, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]
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Thursday November 2, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC

by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends


The housing shortage in BC is of top concern to nearly everyone.

A significant population increase in the last two years makes it so — compounded by years of skyrocketing housing prices and people’s affordability for home ownership or renting falling much behind.

bc housing, kahlon, dean
BC Housing announcement Nov 1, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

On November 1 the BC NDP government introduced new legislation that will see all lots across the province open to the construction of multiple housing units (including triplexes, four-plexes and even six-plexes).

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While single family homes will still be possible, the fast-rising cost of everything has reached deep into the cost of home construction. Inflation and interest rates — driven by supply chain issues and incomes falling behind — have exacerbated the cost of housing that was already becoming out of reach due to economic disparity that has developed over at least three decades in BC.

BC’s major cities are among the most expensive urban places in all of Canada, something that developed over a long period but has reached a crisis point.

More homes for people:

Once the legislation passes (under the majority NDP government), regulations and guidelines will be issued. Municipalities will have until June 30, 2024 to update their zoning bylaws.

The proposed legislation permits one secondary suite and/or one laneway home in all single-family/duplex residential zones, in all communities throughout BC.

Local governments will be required to allow for at least three to four units on lots currently zoned for single-family or duplex, depending on lot size:

  • lots less than 280 sq m = 3 units
  • lots greater than 280 sq m = 4 units
  • 6 units permitted on larger lots if close to transit stops with frequent use

Vehicle parking requirements will be determined by lot size and proximity to transit.

Municipalities covered by the legislation may permit additional density if desired but cannot have bylaws that allow for fewer permitted units than the provincial legislation.

district of metchosin

New regulations to come:

Regulations for zoning and other aspects of small-scale multi-unit homes (SSMUH) will be released after the legislation is passed.

New regulations will accelerate housing construction of SSMUH in existing neighbourhoods and reduce the delays and limitations that hold back housing projects. SSMUH examples include: secondary suites in single-family homes or duplexes; detached garden suites or laneway homes; triplexes; townhomes; and house-plexes.

mitzi dean, mla, constituency, ad

Reducing layers of regulations have until now led to additional costs, delays and often reduction of the number of homes or units built.

The Official Community Plan (OCP) in municipalities will need to be updated every five years including ways to better meet housing needs. More complete Housing Needs Reports will be required. Municipal zoning bylaws and regulations will need to be more efficient and upfront. Reduce the need for public hearings where housing projects already fit within community plans.

Funding to municipalities:

To support implementation by municipalities, the BC government will continue to provide local governments with resources to speed up the approval processes.

That will include the recently announced $51 million to support local governments in meeting the new density zoning requirements as well as $10 million for the Local Government Development Approvals Program.

Getting municipalities, developers & homeowners on board:

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said yesterday that he expects many ‘creative’ results in terms of housing types and density. A lot will depend on developers, available designs, neighbourhood styles, and other factors like proximity to transportation, the availability of skilled construction-sector labour, and the willingness of current homeowners to take part in secondary suite initiatives and/or full redevelopment of their lots/houses.

monk office, discount

Kahlon’s housing ministry has been working closely with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) to develop benchmarks for determining housing density vis-a-vis proximity of homes to ‘rapid transit’ and ‘frequent transit’ (which can include bus corridors).

That was confirmed to Island Social Trends yesterday by both Kahlon and MOTI Minister Rob Fleming. Kahlon told Island Social Trends that the collaboration between the two ministries has been “huge”…”we’ve been working closely on it”.

Suite of legislative directions:

This new legislation comes on the heels of short-term rental legislation (aiming to free up existing housing/condo/apartment stock), and legislation requiring targeted municipalities to build a stated number of new housing units (of a range of types) by provincially-established deadlines.

Saanich leadership:

Joining Kahlon at the podium in the Hall of Honour at the BC Legislature yesterday was District of Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock who has become a visible housing policy champion for the NDP government.

dean murdock, saanich, mayor, bc leg
District of Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock taking part in BC housing announcement on Nov 1, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Back in September, Murdock hosted Kahlon at Saanich municipal hall for a housing legislation announcement. The first-term Saanich mayor seems to hit the right tone for the provincial government in terms of leadership among municipalities on the fast-forward municipal housing file.

“Single-family homes are largely out of reach for many people looking to buy or rent in Saanich. These proposed changes help create more housing choices that meet the needs of individuals and families in the community today, and in the future. This will allow people to put down roots in Saanich – where they can build a life in neighbourhoods that are close to schools, parks and shops and feel connected to their community,” said Murdock about the new multi-unit housing plan.

district of sooke

Emerging urban-rural trends:

About 90 percent of the BC population will be in areas with the new multi-unit zoning for individual housing lots. Communities of under 5,000 population will be exempt from the legislation.

One unintended consequence could be the evolution of higher-wealth enclaves in rural areas where larger single-family homes can still be built.

As well, the allowance for greater density (e.g. six units on a previous single-home lot) might create tighter lower-income working class neighbourhoods.

Local municipal reaction:

More to come on what municipalities are saying about the proposed new regulations.

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