Nelson’s mayor is surprised at provincial housing minister David Eby’s suggestion that the province should take over municipalities’ job of approving housing development.
As reported by the CBC and other media, David Eby stated last week that too many potential housing developments are being stalled or scuttled by city planning departments obsessed with the minutiae of building design and by councils giving in to the objections of residents opposing development in their neighbourhoods. Eby suggested the province lacks sufficient housing and the government should be allowed to override local decisions on whether a housing development should be approved.
Mayor John Dooley said Eby’s statements were not well thought through.
“Once in a while, as elected officials, we don’t necessarily do our homework,” Dooley said. “And I think this potentially could be one of those.”
He said the City of Nelson’s approvals process is “robust and streamlined,” adding that he believes most developers in the Nelson area would agree with him.
Dooley said having the provincial government take over the work of Nelson’s development services staff would leave the general population out of the loop, because now when a property is to be rezoned, there is a process for a formal hearing to listen to the public’s concerns.
“You have to notify the neighborhood, and does provincial government want to take that process away from people? (Does it want cities to) take their community plan and tear it up and throw it away?”
The Union of B.C Municipalities also disagrees with Eby about the root of B.C.’s housing problems.
In a just-published study of B.C.’s housing market, the UBCM cited census data to conclude that housing construction in B.C. is keeping up with population growth, but developers are not necessarily building the right kind of housing.
“There is a demand that’s being created by investors,” UBCM president Laurey-Anne Roodenburg told the Nelson Star. “According to the Bank of Canada, one in five homes are being snapped up by investors. So this activity eats into our supply and it drives the prices up through excessive demand.”
She said these investors “have deep pockets, and they can get high prices for these properties and leave the general population out of the process,” adding that some communities have seen a significant increase in the flipping of pre-sale homes.
“Tackling affordability will require incentivizing the right supply, including affordable rental housing and co-ops, and addressing the market-skewing influence of speculative demand,” the UBCM report states, emphasizing that housing should not be built just for the sake of supply.
Roodenburg also said the report addresses the probable role of short term rentals in the housing shortage.
Dooley said the shortage of housing in Nelson is caused partly by the lack of land in the city and, in the rural areas, the lack of zoning to allow subdividing, and lack of rural services such as water and sewer.
“There are two- or three-acre lots out there, and (in Nelson) we’re trying to shoehorn houses or multiple houses into 120 by 50 foot lots.”
He said that some province-supported housing projects that involve grants are sometimes held up by slow decision-making by the granting organization, not by city processes.
He said a regional housing strategy is needed.
“In fact, we put some money in the budget this time around to be a partner in establishing a regional housing strategy and that would allow for the concentration of houses not to be continuously built in Nelson.”
Clifford Kshyk, CEO of the Southern Interior Construction Association, said his organization is not impressed with current municipal permitting systems and is not sure the province could do any better.
“The current municipal permitting process is counterproductive to the government’s housing supply goals because it creates uncertainty and risk for the construction industry,” he wrote in an email to the Nelson Star, adding that switching responsibility to the province is “not necessarily a guaranteed improvement.”
He said his industry wants prompt payment legislation, “which will deliver a significant boost to BC’s industry and economy. There are few more significant challenges to a construction project than contractors not getting paid for services delivered. Therefore payment and permit certainty should be working to compliment this essential industry.”