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Artificial intelligence and mandated targets: Strategies behind B.C.'s housing push

Housing continues to be a key talking point for the David Eby government, and one of his key lieutenants is prepared to flex his ministerial muscle to encourage, simplify and push municipalities and developers into creating more homes.

The headlines and pushback on the NDP’s Homes for People plan have largely been focussed on the approval of four-plex zoning across the province, but there are many more changes already underway to slash red tape, modernize permitting and approvals and compel NIMBY constituents to get on board with ambitious housing targets.

In a one-on-one interview with the housing minister, CTV News observed that the province is using its considerable legislative authority over municipalities to try and slash layers of approvals and regulations, which he did not deny.

“We are taking steps to streamline the process,” said Ravi Kahlon. “De-politicizing decision-making, making sure community planning happens on the front end, so that decisions can happen much sooner as they move through the system.”

He said the building code is being digitized over the next year, with the goal that every housing application going to any city hall in British Columbia will go through the same electronic approval process, with initial approvals green-lit by artificial intelligence software.

“There are jurisdictions all around the world that are doing it, we just need to catch up,” said Kahlon, who believes that 30 to 40 reviews, inspections and approvals for a project are signs of “some serious structural changes that have to happen” and that he’s open to the idea of pre-approved home designs and other innovations.


Kahlon also told CTV News that in the coming weeks, his government will be getting even more aggressive with slow-moving councils.

“We will be introducing eight to 10 communities as part of our Housing Supply Act,” he said. “Those communities will have housing targets put on them to ensure that they can meet the growing demand in their jurisdiction and help alleviate the housing pressure around the province.”

The Union of BC Municipalities, which represents every hamlet, town and city in the province, isn’t surprised to hear that, but is already anticipating friction.

“Will there be pushback? Absolutely,” said UBCM president and Whistler city councillor, Jen Ford. “Some communities feel they're already doing a pretty good job and some recognize the limitations of what their community can handle.”

She pointed out the province is responsible for key services like healthcare, schools and other infrastructure and it’s problematic to build thousands of homes without commensurate supports

“I've been hearing from small communities and large communities who are concerned about what it will mean to their ability to govern and what knock-on effects that will have in the service delivery they're required to provide within a very restrained financial system,” added Ford.


The Homebuilders Association of Vancouver is keen to see what the “streamlining” Kahlon talks about will look like after struggling with increasing costs, requirements and waits over the years.

“It has become very complex and very layered and it has built up over time,” said Ron Rapp of the approval process.

He says that 30 per cent of the cost of a new home is the result of government-imposed charges, which include inspection fees, requirements to help pay for community amenities like parks as well as the water, sewer and other infrastructure required for new homes.

But Rapp says those costs can changed over the two to five years it now takes to get rezoning, inspections and other approvals for new homes: building code, city council priorities and other factors like interest rate hikes can all make a hostile environment for developers while pushing the sticker price ever higher.

“You're risking a lot, the money that goes into the front end of a project is considerable and it's not for the faint of wallet,” he said, pointing out that ultra-detailed requirements for specific trees and landscaping audits, for example, add time and expense to each housing unit. “We all have to look at this housing crisis as a crisis, and it doesn't revolve around meeting the needs of a particular bird.”

Ford agreed that red tape can be reduced and approvals need to move faster, but pointed out building structures is not the same as building communities, and local governments have to look at the big picture.

“Thinking about the size of the pipes in the ground, considering services such as childcare, all of these things are more complicated (than ever),” she said. “We have to think about accessibility, we have to look at changing climate and how snowfall will affect a neighbourhood and where the snow will be put when they plow the road.”

The UBCM is working with estimates that 217,000 net new residents will move to British Columbia over the next five years. Top Stories

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