September 21, 2022 BC Municipal Election: An Opportunity to Impact Housing Affordability

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On October 15th, British Columbians in municipalities across the province will go to their local poll stations to select 10 new (or returning) councillors as well as a new or returning mayor. With this opportunity, British Columbians must understand how much this election matters, what impact the results will have on their day-to-day livelihood, and why voters should care enough to turn out and make change with their choices. There are few issues as personal and significant to our quality of lives than housing availability and affordability. In this election, each voter can have an impact on the future of housing affordability in our province.

This election cycle, more than ever, sees the question of housing supply and housing affordability as key issues on the minds of residents and politicians. Voters are understandably concerned and upset about the astronomical price appreciation we’ve seen over the last two years and want to know what will be done to bring about change. MLA Advisory has noted that the price of a condo in the City of Vancouver has increased by 9.3% over the past two years. This matter affects every citizen in the region and beyond, and the most efficient way to effect change is with your vote.

The impacts of municipal government: the Broadway Plan

Vancouver’s much discussed Broadway Plan serves as a stark reminder of the impacts of a chosen government on housing options within a municipality. The Broadway Plan is a 30-year growth and development policy that was originally proposed in the Spring of 2018. Its intention is to densify the Broadway corridor in order to support the upcoming Skytrain extension and the resulting change in use and traffic patterns for the surrounding areas. Six public meetings on the subject, which spanned several weeks and heard from hundreds of public speakers, were followed by dozens of amendment proposals before the Vancouver City Council approved the final form of the Broadway Plan. Between city councillors and the mayor, at least 42 amendments to the Plan were proposed, many of which scaled back the entailing provisions. It took multiple meeting dates to debate and vote on said amendments after the public consultations. In the end, just under 30 amendments were approved, with some amendments containing directives opposing another amendment, essentially neutralizing each. Other amendments were withdrawn by their proponents. The Plan was passed by a 10-4 vote, by the very same councillors who are now up for re-election. While there was, and continues to be, a very healthy amount of debate on the direction and focus of the Broadway Plan along with its merits and specifics, it’s clear to all that it will have a significant impact on housing affordability in Vancouver in some form. It’s our opinion that the Plan as it stands does not go far enough. British Columbia has always had an undersupply of housing, and we need big solutions to address a big problem.

Municipal votes have tangible implications

Who you vote for – and that you vote at all – really does matter to your life and lifestyle; in this instance we look at the upcoming municipal elections through the lens of housing development. Other geographies in Canada provide evident and recent examples of what can happen in areas where anti-development candidates were voted onto their city councils. In July, the Toronto City Council approved a growth funding tools measure that increased development charges for new residential units by up to 46%. These “tools” included new community benefit charges, parkland levies and development charges – all of which drove the housing prices even higher. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s recent analysis showed that 20 to 26% of the price of a new home can be directly attributed to government charges. When you consider that, the implications and impact of such a large and rapid increase to development fees quickly comes into focus.

More locally, we can find another strong exemplifier of the impact municipalities have on the housing of their residents: the recent legal fight between GSC Capital Group, a real estate developer, and the City of White Rock. In 2018, GSC Capital received a development permit from the city to construct a 12-storey tower, following years of careful planning, deliberations, and permit applications. In a shocking move, later that same year a newly established incoming council introduced new zoning restrictions that conflicted with the development’s approved land use. The new council retroactively revoked GSC Capital’s approved application, halting their project mid-development. Despite several appeals and challenges all the way up to the B.C. Supreme Court, GSC was ultimately unable to proceed with their partially developed property, and the land sits empty and unused to this day.

Metro Vancouver is no stranger to the implications of municipal fluctuations. In West Vancouver, the Official Community Plan (OCP) established in 2018 called for the building of over 250 new units per year. And yet, in the past four years, just over 500 new units were approved – less than half of the target of 2000 outlined in the OCP. The impacting factor, yet again, was the councillors holding office and their attitudes toward – or rather, against – development.

As Ryan Lalonde, President of MLA Canada has shared, “in a city that is already infamous for a difficult development process and an unaffordable housing market, we need to carefully consider the development philosophies of our future elected officials.” Unpredictable decisions and archaic approval processes such as those our cities have been exposed to as of late create an environment of distrust between developers and city officials. “This is not conducive to the larger goal that both sides have of creating beautiful communities for our residents to enjoy.” If we want to see improved housing availability and affordability, we must elect officials that will strongly commit to putting growth plans put in place and to working with developers to successfully enact them. Every vote counts.

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