BCNPHA in the News

Vancouver Sun: Vaughn Palmer: B.C. municipalities right to worry about Eby threat

Vaughn Palmer, the Vancouver Sun, November 18 (with quotes from BCNPHA CEO Jill Atkey)

VICTORIA — Housing Minister David Eby has drawn an anxious response from local government with his suggestion that if municipalities don’t work with Victoria to increase the housing supply, they won’t have access to provincial funding.

Union of B.C. Municipalities President Laurey-Anne Roodenburg wrote to Eby seeking clarification about a “punitive” approach that would “erode local government autonomy.”

The UBCM letter went out Tuesday, the same day as Eby’s comments to a conference on affordable housing were reported by Lisa Cordasco in The Vancouver Sun.

Eby used the speech to emphasize that much more housing will be needed to improve affordability.

“I’m going to take it for granted that we all agree we need more housing supply,” Eby told 1,200 delegates to the Housing Central Conference Monday. “We’ve got the federal government committed to bringing 400,000 new Canadians into our country every year for the next three years.

“About 10 per cent of those folks are going to end up in the Lower Mainland — that is just from international immigration. That doesn’t talk about interprovincial migration. The pressure on housing is going to be enormous.”

Eby indicated that he is running out of patience with local governments acting as “gatekeepers” to restrict growth of the housing supply.

He cited Surrey’s decision last summer to reject a proposed 91-unit project for adults with disabilities. “Supporting adults with disabilities in having an independent life — you would think that this would be a no-brainer,” said Eby.

But neighbours complained that the six-storey project was too tall and council sided with the neighbours.

“We’ve got the money, we’ve got the developer, we’ve got the non-profit, but the municipality is acting as a gatekeeper and preventing the housing from being built,” said a “very frustrated” Eby.

He noted (but did not name) other municipalities in and around Metro Vancouver “that have said ‘we are not especially interested in growing anymore. We’re at capacity.’

“Which is a fairly significant problem when you’ve got 40,000 people moving into your region and you’re saying ‘our community is not going to do our part.’”

Turning to what the government might do about foot-dragging and outright obstruction, Eby dropped a strong hint.

If conference delegates were “curious about where we’re going on the housing supply,” they should read Opening Doors, the recent report of the federal-provincial panel on housing affordability.

“We don’t want anyone to be surprised,” said Eby. “This is the direction that we’re going to encourage municipalities to approve the housing.”

The panel, chaired by former NDP finance minister Joy MacPhail, advised the province that it would probably have to override local government and cap development fees to expedite housing construction.

Eby addressed that possibility at the conference in fielding a question from Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association and a member of the panel that produced Opening Doors.

Atkey began by noting how other jurisdictions — she mentioned Ontario, Alberta and New Zealand — were taking a “more aggressive” approach in dealing with local zoning and other obstacles to increasing the housing supply.

“What would be your preferred approach here in B.C. and can you give us a bit more of a concrete sense of what additional changes might be headed our way?” she asked the housing minister.

“The goal right now is a cooperative shared understanding with municipal governments around the need for zoning to match population growth and housing needs and expedited processes where we work together,” replied Eby.

But as a fallback position, the government could bring down the legislative hammer, as recommended in the Opening Doors report.

“We really don’t want to go down that road,” said Eby. “What we would like to do is have community plans that reflect population growth and zoning to match that, and that we ‘incent’ communities to do that through various supports.”

Then the sting: “And for the communities that don’t do that, they won’t have access to provincial funding for various programs.”

Then, perhaps in anticipation of a backlash, he added: “If you’re in a municipality that is desperate for housing, has no developers and you’re really struggling with how to do things, it feels unfair for the province to come in and say OK, you’re not meeting the housing supply challenge in your community and we’re not going to provide funding to you. So we have to take into account some of that regional nuance as well.”

All that hedging allowed Eby to tell reporters that he’s not currently considering withholding funding from municipalities that refuse to go along with the province on the housing file.

Not now anyway.

“I did say that if the cooperative approach was unable to work, that one of the avenues open to us was to use what the (Opening Doors) report described as carrots and sticks,” he told reporters. “That is something that has been outlined for us as a potential option.”

I expect Eby would have a similar response to the UBCM’s request that he define what would constitute non-co-operation on the housing supply and what funding could be withheld.

He’s one of the most calculating ministers in government.

When he said the government is not at this time going to play carrots and sticks with municipalities to promote the housing supply, I expect he meant it.

But when he suggested that day may come, he meant that as well.

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