Palmer: NDP may have to toughen up more with municipalities on housing


Opinion: While the government is still working with municipalities to reduce delays in developments, it may still have to force the issue

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VICTORIA – Communities in British Columbia would be restructured at the neighborhood level as part of the NDP’s ambitious climate plan, with greater density, fewer single-family homes, and greater reliance on public transit, cycling and walking.

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“This is a transformation of our way of life,” as Environment Minister George Heyman said after the deployment this week of the second phase of the Clean BC Plan.

“As we design communities and public transport in tandem, we are building compact communities, well served by public transport, well served by cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and which have places of business close to places of people work, as well as places for shopping and good leisure opportunities.

“It won’t happen overnight,” Heyman conceded in an interview with Gregor Craigie on CBC’s On the Island, “but we have plans that will take us to 2030 and beyond. “

One of the objectives of the plan foresees “a 25% reduction in the number of kilometers traveled by cars by 2030, compared to 2020”.

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Another aims to “increase travel on foot, by bicycle, by public transport to 30% by 2030, 40% by 2040 and 50% by 2050”.

But to make them achievable, people would have to live closer to workplaces, recreation, shopping, schools, and other amenities.

They should also live – yes – closer to each other.

“The aim is to integrate future transport investments into local and regional development plans, supporting the smooth flow of people and goods, enabling trade, preparing for future growth and encouraging the development of communities.” affordable and resilient connected networks that provide the amenities, housing and quality of life that people enjoy, ”said the plan, released Monday.

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“Because better land use is essential for climate action, we will assess opportunities to strengthen the legislative framework for local government – working with municipalities, regional districts, indigenous communities and other key partners to identify areas where improvements may be needed. “

The New Democrats took a few steps in that direction on Tuesday with legislation to lift some of the restrictions on local governments when approving housing and other developments.

A change would eliminate the requirement for local governments to hold public hearings on zoning changes for projects that conform to an existing community plan. Another would allow municipalities to delegate decisions about minor exemption permits to staff. A third would “modernize public notice requirements by allowing community choice in addition to existing methods of providing public notice.”

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Introducing the bill, Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne said the changes were the result of consultations with local government.

“By updating public hearings and some permitting requirements, we are giving local governments more tools to provide the housing communities need across British Columbia,” said Osborne. “This is an important step in the work that all levels of government must do to meet the housing needs of people in our communities.

The changes align with the NDP’s goal of improving housing affordability by increasing the supply and speeding up construction of rental and family-friendly housing on a smaller area of ​​land.

The change will not be without controversy, as Postmedia’s Dan Fumano noted on Wednesday in an article titled “Prepare for heated debates.”

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By diluting the requirement for public hearings, the New Democrats are eliminating an opportunity for the often noisy Footsteps in My Backyard, or NIMBY.

However, these changes are only the first steps. They are well below what it will take to build “compact communities” with a mix of housing densities clustered around transit lines, close to amenities and workplaces.

To date, the New Democrats have preferred to work in partnership with local governments, even though the results fall short of their goals of increasing housing density and affordability.

But behind the scenes are the recommendations of a federal-provincial expert panel on housing supply and affordability chaired by former NDP finance minister Joy MacPhail. He concluded that the province will need to take the lead in housing supply and affordability by harnessing the power of local governments to delay projects and increase development costs.

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“Many of the most important policy levers relating specifically to housing supply belong to local governments, which face significant barriers – especially political ones – preventing them from making further progress towards more housing supply,” the panel said. in a final report published in June.

“So we believe it is incumbent on the provincial government, which is ultimately responsible for local governments, to adopt many of our most impactful recommendations (which) will have a significant positive impact on housing affordability in Colombia. -British, especially long term. ”

There followed a call for provincial legislation requiring municipalities to meet an appropriate set of housing needs “as minimum targets against which to determine land use policies and decisions.”

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Other intrusions into municipal jurisdiction would include provincially mandated timelines for the development process and reduced reliance on public hearings.

“Attempts by local governments to change zoning to allow more housing development are politically controversial and often meet strong public opposition,” the panel found. “There are invariably groups of residents – especially neighborhood associations – that can make it politically difficult for local governments to implement such changes. “

The MacPhail panel’s hard-line recommendations are still under review, according to Housing Minister David Eby.

But if the New Democrats are serious about developing the compact communities envisioned in their climate plan, I expect they will sooner or later have to resort to legislative coercion.

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