Provincial housing legislation introduces sweeping changes to local government planning framework

Publishing Date

The Province has introduced legislation that will bring about sweeping changes to the local planning framework through new requirements to allow increased density in areas currently zoned for single-family or duplex use. The legislation will also change housing needs reporting and public hearing requirements, and require more frequent updating of Official Community Plans together with pre-zoning that accommodates a 20-year housing supply.

Legislation overview

Key components of the legislation (Bill 44) include increased density zoning and new community planning requirements. 

Secondary suites and ‘Small-Scale Multi-Unit’ (SSMU) housing
The legislation and forthcoming regulations will require all local governments to update zoning bylaws to permit one secondary suite or laneway home (accessory dwelling unit) in all single-family residential zones.

The Province will also require zoning bylaws to be updated by June 30, 2024 to permit small-scale, multi-unit housing such as triplexes and townhomes in municipalities of over 5,000 people and within urban containment boundaries:

  • Three to four units will be permitted on lots currently zoned for single-family or duplex use.  The Province has indicated that lots smaller than 280 square metres will be allowed three units, and larger lots will be allowed four.
  • Six units will be permitted on lots within a prescribed distance to transit stops with frequent service, that are larger than 280 square metres and are currently zoned for single-family or duplex use, in selected areas.

The specified densities will act as a floor; municipalities impacted by the legislation may permit additional density beyond the Provincial requirements. The Province has indicated that where communities have already made SSMU zoning changes to single-family and duplex lots, those existing bylaws would remain. Communities with current SSMU zoning bylaws can choose to adopt provincial standards on setbacks, height restrictions, parking and lot coverage, to be provided in the Provincial policy manual.

The legislation also provides exemptions for the SSMU requirements that include: land protected under the Heritage Conservation Act, land that is not connected to water or sewer, and parcels of land larger than 4,050 square meters.

Significant elements pertaining to the legislation will be further defined via regulation and guidelines. For example, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may also make regulations for purposes including those pertaining to the siting, size, dimension, location or type of housing unit required to be permitted, and respecting exemptions to SSMU requirements. In addition, a policy manual will be released after the SSMU regulations are released in December 2023, which will “set clear provincial expectations in terms of setbacks, height restrictions, parking and lot coverage”.

OCP and Zoning framework changes
The proposed legislation also institutes a broader series of changes to the planning framework:

  • Requires all local governments to update their housing needs reports (HNR) using a standardized methodology to estimate housing needs over a 20-year time horizon.
  • Requires that official community plan (OCP) and zoning bylaws be updated every 5 years to reflect and pre-zone for the 20-year total number of housing units required to meet anticipated housing needs. OCPs must also include housing policies respecting each class of housing need required in the most recent HNR.
  • Prohibits public hearings for housing-focused rezonings that are consistent with OCPs, where the residential component of a development comprises at least half of the gross floor area.

Regulations may be made to exempt certain local governments, or a class of local governments, from OCP and HNR related requirements, and to establish HNR methodology.

Public hearing changes noted above will take effect with the passage of legislation, but interim timelines relating to OCP, zoning, and HNR changes are as follows:

  • January 2024 – HNR instructions to be provided to local governments.
  • June/July 2024 – OCP/zoning review/update instructions to be provided to municipalities.
  • Jan. 1, 2025 (date subject to regulation) – local governments must have completed their interim HNR.
  • Dec. 31, 2025 (date subject to regulation) – Municipalities must have completed their first review and update of their OCPs and zoning bylaws (based on interim HNR).

After this initial transition period, the next HNR will be due on or before December 31, 2028, and then on a 5-year cycle. OCPs will need to be updated every 5 years after the initial updated OCP in 2025.

These changes will have significant implications for development finance by restricting the application of density bonusing, among other things. In addition, because many outcomes such as tenant supports, tree preservation, and land dedication are also negotiated at the rezoning stage, UBCM members have requested via resolution 2023-NR15 that the Province:

  • Expand the tools for local governments to request road dedications, statutory-rights-of-way, and infrastructure servicing upgrades through the development permit and/or building permit process; and
  • Provide a legislative framework for amenity contributions, tenant relocation requirements, and other requirements to be applied at the development permit or building permit phase rather than being tied to rezonings.

The Province has announced that they will be tabling legislation addressing development finance reform this fall.

Going forward

The legislation and associated regulations will bring about far-reaching changes to the local planning framework. The proposed timelines are ambitious and come at a time when the Province is implementing other significant changes to the planning system, including setting housing targets under the Housing Supply Act and a variety of other bills and actions announced under Homes for People, including pending development finance reform, and new rules to deliver housing in areas well-served by transit.

Taken together, these changes will result in significant cumulative impacts for local government finance and capacity. The Province previously announced $51 million to support local government implementation of the proposed changes, with details to be announced in January/February 2024. However, impacts on local finance and capacity will extend well beyond the immediate transition period, with new requirements for regular HNR, OCP and zoning updates and associated implications for infrastructure and service delivery. UBCM members have consistently supported changes that address the principle of ‘growth paying for growth’ - that the costs of new infrastructure and the services delivered are shared fairly and equitably by all those that benefit.  Conversely, the consequences of this legislation challenge the principles of ‘growth paying for growth’ and raise the concern that local government’s ongoing infrastructure challenges will be further impacted.

UBCM recognizes the urgent need to address the housing crisis and appreciates that many local governments support the introduced legislative changes. However, a shift towards prescriptive, centralized planning comes also with risks and potential unintended consequences.

UBCM welcomes member feedback on the legislation, the engagement process, and the associated implications for your local government to inform our future engagement with the Province, mitigate unintended consequences and to ensure that local governments are receiving the supports needed for effective implementation.

Please contact Josh van Loon, Senior Policy Analyst, with feedback, questions, or concerns that you wish to convey to UBCM. Analyses of new housing legislation will be released via the Compass and posted on the housing section of the UBCM webpage.

Correction Nov. 3, 2023: An early version of this article based on Provincial briefing materials indicated that new zoning would allow a secondary dwelling or laneway house on any lot zoned for single-family OR duplex residential. The Province has since clarified that the secondary dwelling zoning will only apply to lots currently zoned as single-family.