Analysis of provincial housing plan

Housing under construction
Publishing Date

On the day before UBCM’s Housing Summit, the Province announced its new strategy for housing, Homes for People, an ambitious plan with wide-ranging elements that will have significant implications for local governments across B.C. UBCM will continue to push the Province for meaningful engagement with local governments, not just in legislative development, but also in subsequent stages of implementation.

Elements that will require significant consultation

Elements of the plan pertaining to densification, large-scale redevelopment and expediting planning approvals will require careful consideration and input from local government planning experts to ensure effective implementation and minimize the risk of unintended consequences.
These initiatives include the previously announced BC Builds, which would bring together public lands, low-cost financing, and faster provincial and local approvals to build more middle-income housing. Details on this initiative remain limited at present. The Province also reiterated its intent to move forward with increased transit-oriented development, with an initial investment of $394 million in Budget 2023 to help deliver up to 10,000 units near transit over 10-15 years.
The Province continues to promote several parallel approaches to expediting development approvals:

  • Streamlining provincial approvals,
  • Digital permitting – using tools such as automatic code compliance checks, and
  • Implementing the Development Approvals Process Review.

The Housing Supply Act, which received Royal Assent in 2022 will also enable the Minister to set municipal housing targets. The Province recently confirmed, through the Ministry of Housing 2023 Service Plan, that 16-20 municipalities will be assigned targets each year, starting in 2023/24. Because the legislation leaves many significant elements undefined, UBCM has encouraged the Province to engage in meaningful discussion with local governments to safeguard its workability and effectiveness. 
Homes for People also announced the intention to introduce legislation to allow up to four units on a traditional single-family detached lot in many areas of the Province, with additional density permitted in areas well-served by transit. UBCM recognizes that this initiative alone poses the potential for wide-ranging challenges for local governments, relating to:

  • Funding and provision of hard infrastructure (such as transit and water system upgrades), and amenities required to support the development of complete communities (schools, hospitals, community centers and more),
  • Local government staff capacity,
  • Identification of sites that the policy will apply to,
  • Site design and implications for livability and climate adaptation (such as tree preservation, parking and impervious surface coverage), and
  • Alignment with existing municipal policies and regional planning frameworks.

Given the implications for local governance and planning, UBCM will continue to push the Province for significant engagement with local government planning experts, not just in legislative development, but also in subsequent stages of implementation. A focus on ongoing engagement will be particularly important given the Province’s intent to move quickly on the legislation, which is planned to be introduced in the fall.

Elements broadly supported by UBCM policy

Many elements of the plan are broadly consistent with UBCM policy. These can be categorized into approaches focused on affordable housing supply and tenant supports, homelessness, and speculation. UBCM will monitor and seek opportunities for local government engagement on these initiatives, where appropriate:
Affordable housing supply and tenant supports
Affordable supply is a common theme in many of the plan elements, and parallels longstanding UBCM advocacy for an increased supply of rental, co-op and other forms of affordable housing.
Homes for People outlines plans for:

  • Subsidized rental homes for 6,000 more families and seniors through the expansion of the Community Housing Fund.
  • Delivery of an additional 4,000 on-campus rooms for post-secondary students, through $575 million announced in Budget 2023.
  • Starting in 2024, the Province is planning to offer forgivable loans of 50% of the cost of renovations, up to a maximum of $40,000 over five years to build secondary suites, open to at least 3,000 homeowners for three years.
  • Increasing funding for the BC Rent Bank that provides interest-free loans (or in some cases, grants) to renters.
  • Investment in revitalizing and adding new homes to underutilized housing sites, adding approximately 6,100 new homes at 10 sites over the next decade.
  • Doubling the number of units to be built under the Indigenous Housing Fund.
  • Exploring new ways to build more purpose-built rental housing.
  • Protection of affordable rental homes via the previously announced $500 million Rental Protection Fund that will provide grants to non-profit housing organizations to buy residential rental buildings and co-ops to protect current tenants.
  • Further work to make it easier to use mass timber in taller buildings.
  • Revitalized co-op housing through leveraging federal and provincial funding, addressing lease expirations and exploring new ways to expand the sector.

The plan also proposes a variety of supports and protections for renters including providing an annual income-tested tax credit of up to $400 per year starting in 2024, an additional $15 million over three years to hire and train more Residential Tenancy Branch staff, and additional measures to better protect renters from displacement from redevelopment.
These initiatives are further detailed in a separate Compass article on the Province’s homelessness plan but include:

  • 3,900 additional supportive housing units for people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
  • 240 additional purpose-built Complex Care Housing units at approximately 12 locations across the province.
  • New actions to close encampments and better support people currently sheltering in encampments to access housing, including through the establishment of action response teams. 

The plan reiterates a commitment to supporting local government regulation of short-term rentals, potentially through data sharing and measures to support compliance with local by-laws. UBCM has long advocated for such an approach, leading to the development of a series of recommendations for action through a joint advisory group.
The plan also proposes a flipping tax to discourage profit-motivated rapid resale of properties, a tax that was proposed in UBCM’s 2018 Housing Strategy. More broadly, the Province plans to continue to crack down on criminal activity in real estate including through unexplained wealth orders and partnerships with the Federal Government.
Finally, the plan notes that the Province may consider further expanding the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (SVT) to additional areas with low vacancy rates. While members have supported the principle of vacancy taxation to encourage the use of housing as housing, the Province’s approach varies from UBCM’s preferred approach as defined by member-endorsed resolutions.  UBCM has advocated for local government authority for vacancy taxation, or the direct distribution back of funding from the SVT to impacted municipalities to support affordable housing in those jurisdictions.
Members may contact Josh van Loon, Senior Policy Analyst with questions or comments.