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Frustration dominates B.C. housing summit as mayors point finger at province


Many of British Columbia’s mayors and councillors are in Vancouver for a two-day summit to discuss housing in their communities, and several came out swinging against provincial policies in the opening session Tuesday. 

In essence, municipalities have to execute the provincial government’s aggressive housing targets. Civic leaders are exasperated, saying not only were they not asked whether those targets are even possible, they haven’t been given enough resources to provide services for a flood of new residents.

The Union of BC Municipalities’ plenary panel was titled “Housing the next million British Columbians” and the six mayors on stage expressed various levels of frustration stemming from what they described as lack of financial support, unrealistic expectations and non-existent consultation on the BC NDP’s sweeping plans for dramatically expanded housing regulations.

The mayors point out that blanket approval for four- or six-plexes on single-family lots requires massive planning and investments in infrastructure – from transit to schools to the electrical grid to sewer capacity – many of which fall on their shoulders.

”We agree with the ultimate goals, the question is how to get there,” said Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto, who pointed out a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t acknowledge the different challenges communities have based on geography and demand.

Burnaby’s mayor told attendees his staff have crunched the numbers and for every 100 metres of single-family homes, it’ll cost a million dollars to upgrade services to four-plex or denser housing.

“It’s overwhelming when you get into the nuts and bolts of how this is going to work,” warned Mike Hurley, who also described he federal government as being “pretty absent” in the face of municipal challenges.

Both Alto and Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie emphasized the few people involved in the province’s planning for multi-plexes had to sign tight non-disclosure agreements that kept them from discussing the details with anyone not officially involved.

Several mayors pointed out that until now, the emphasis of the BC NDP government’s housing plans has been on supply and expedited construction rather than affordability.

Brodie added that his community has been steadily increasing density along transit corridors for nearly two decades, but prices have soared anyhow.

“Straight supply is not the answer to the whole challenge of providing more housing and making it affordable. It simply does not follow,” he insisted.

Minister addresses delegates and reporters

It was a full house when the housing minister addressed delegates early in the afternoon, responding to questions they posed virtually and in person on a range of issues.

In a scrum with reporters afterwards, CTV News asked Ravi Kahlon whether he’d taken the mayors’ concerns about infrastructure funding to heart.

“We know there's infrastructure needs, that's why we had the billion dollars that was provided to local governments,” he said. “In fact, many local governments haven't yet even assigned where those dollars will go in their communities.”

Kahlon also cited other measures passed with fall legislation that now allow municipalities to charge more fees to capture costs from developers, while pointing to global issues around inflation and worker shortages for keeping prices high.

He defended the province pushing ahead with targets despite opposition and concerns, pointing out there’s been discussion and deliberation for years.

“People are struggling in our communities every single day for housing,” Kahlon said. “At some point we have to stop talking about it and start getting on with the work.”

Who's in the know?

By the end of the fall legislative session, the province estimated its planned reforms could create 293,000 housing units over the next decade, after years of under-construction and a focus on luxury condominiums.

Premier David Eby’s focus on blanket multi-plex zoning may be a new concept to British Columbians, but it’s already the norm in may parts of the world.

Langley City Mayor Nathan Pachal revealed his community has been learning about provincial policies through official news releases, and that “the legislation is here, but now the provincial government actually has to play a little bit of catch-up” when it comes to implementation.

From schools to hospitals to the roads that booming populations will require, both panelists and attendees asking questions are looking to seniors levels of government to provide their share of services to citizens who need more than a roof over their heads.

“We can’t do this alone,” said Alto.

The mayor of Nanaimo was one of the few who believes more supply will bring down prices, but he was also adamant that municipalities don’t have the resources to carry out everything in the province’s plan.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions and I don’t think this is the road to hell, I think the province is responding to the most basic of human needs, which is shelter,” said Leonard Krog. “I think it’s going to take some time to work out the kinks.” Top Stories

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