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B.C. tackled housing crisis on multiple fronts in 2023

Warren Frey
B.C. tackled housing crisis on multiple fronts in 2023

As Canada faced up to an ongoing housing shortage throughout the year, British Columbia moved cautiously forward on several fronts to reduce roadblocks to finding a home.

B.C. announced a new Permitting Strategy for Housing on Jan. 16, intended to centralize housing-related permits, a move met with cautious optimism by industry leaders.

“It’s certainly welcome news. We have actually been working to address this problem with the province for more than five years,” Homebuilders Association fo Vancouver CEO Ron Rapp said at the time, adding being able to deal with the Water Act, the Heritage Act, permitting with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and other provincial authorities in one place will simplify the process for builders.

Canadian Home Builders’ Association of British Columbia CEO Neil Moody echoed Rapp’s optimism and said, “this announcement responds to a long-standing challenge the residential industry has faced when moving through the complex, multi-layered provincial approval process.”

British Columbia Construction association president Chris Atchison struck a realistic tone.

“No one is under the illusion that this change is going to revolutionize our current situation. There is still a long way to go,” but added “any progress toward shorter permitting times is welcome.”

Later in the year Vancouver City Council made some moves to help the system by voting to remove the policy enquiry process (PEP) for its homebuilding application process as well as placing a higher priority on applications which deliver the highest number of net new housing units.

Vancouver also launched a digital permitting process called the Project Requirements Exploration Tool in June which allows applicants to review requirements specific for locations throughout the city and will identify potential costs, timelines and determine feasibility before an application is even considered.

Another tool called eComply, a digital design compliance check tool developed by Archistar, was introduced for people to upload drawings and designs to see if they meet city regulations and receive a compliance report. eComply will launch in 2024.

The B.C. government also got into the digitization game by digitizing the BC Building Code and permitting process. The change will be piloted in select local governments in 2024. B.C. also gave a $9 million grant over three years to Digital, a technology organization focused on the development and adoption of new technology in the construction sector.

A reality check was then released in September when the province released housing targets for the first 10 municipalities selected for housing target assessment under the authority of the Housing Supply Act, which allows the province to set housing targets in communities with the most urgent needs. Abbotsford, Delta, Kamloops, North Vancouver and Oak Bay were the top municipalities targeted.

So what’s a potential solution to the housing dilemma? In November the provincial government introduced a new standardized set of designs for small-scale, multi-unit homes as part of the Standardized Housing Design Project. This focuses on providing practical, customizable designs for townhomes, triplexes and laneway houses. It issued a request for proposals to select a consultant team and accepted proposals until Dec. 13.

The project’s final goal is to have the standardized designs ready for local governments by summer 2024. These designs will comply with the BC Building Code and be near building-permit ready, the Journal of Commerce previously reported.

Finally, the City of Kelowna looked to the future as it investigated the possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI) applied to housing by working with Microsoft to develop a chatbot to answer questions, provide information and eventually process some planning and development permits.

Modular housing, already in use to address the need for more housing in B.C.’s cities, moved forward in 2023 with more structures to create supportive housing for those living on the streets.

When Vancouver’s initial modular housing initiative was rolled out in 2017, it was assumed the structures would be easily dismantled and relocated to new sites. This proved not to be the case and the City of Vancouver now plans to gradually replace temporary modular units with permanent housing.

But will all of these methods put together be enough? The Journal of Commerce will examine more housing issues as the year progresses in 2024.

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