Key points I want to make which aren't captured in the MLA's high-level editorial:
i) YES, we need non-profit housing and smaller-footprint, truly affordable market-priced homes and rentals in Sooke. Yet our unique situation as a still small town served by a congested (during peak-hour flows) two-lane (mostly) road doesn't accommodate what, on first exposure, seem to be one-size-fits-all directives from Victoria. (Guarantee: The new regs will surely prove to be more nuanced and flexible than many fear.)
ii) Tough choices ahead: Either we in Sooke recognize our capacity under current circumstances and start planning to consciously/mindfully pump the brakes on our rapid population increases; or we acknowledge that significant, character-changing growth is inevitable to the point where we absolutely require a secondary road/four-lane/transit-upgrade traffic solution. (The message in the current and pending OCPs is that most of us want to retain, to a significant degree, the Sooke we know and love.)
iii) Either way, we require significant road infrastructure funding far exceeding our annual allotment of Canada Community Building Fund dollars from Ottawa, the $5.9 million we received this spring through the province's one-time Growing Communities Fund and other grant sources (which we've capitalized on nicely if unpredictably since 2017). Relying on property taxes and Development Cost Charges alone is insufficient and unfair, as Deputy Mayor Al Beddows told the CBC last week.
iv) Unfair because, as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities reminds us in its Municipal Growth Framework campaign, Canadian municipalities received 16.7 cents of every tax dollar collected in the 1960s. This share has plummeted 50% to 8 to 10 cents today. (The UBCM is doing its part with BC advocacy focused on local-government $$$ needs for attainable housing, community safety and climate change.)
v) Builders across Canada, not just in Sooke as our MLA notes, have famously been frustrated by building permit delays for decades now. Sooke councils have been trying to fix the local system since at least 2012. No local government I'm aware of, including Langford with its mythic and misleading 48-hour permit turnarounds, is immune to these systemic delays.
vi) Regarding building timelines, the District is in the home stretch of a permit approval review process that will make a dramatic difference to how applications are both accepted (only when 100% complete) and processed expeditiously once a radically overhauled system is implemented at the District next year. (Expect to see the final Urban Systems report late this year or early next); and
vii) Sooke is, in fact, well ahead on its housing needs targets with as many as 800 units (rental and owner-occupied) approved for construction and likely 1,000 more in discussion/process/pre-approval design stages. To repeat the old refrain: How much more can we accommodate before our quality of life here suffers irreparable harm?
First, a recap of recent first-read legislation and announcements from Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon
* Bill 46 Housing Statutes (Development Financing) Amendment Act, 2023
* Bill 44 Housing Statutes (Residential Development) Amendment Act, 2023
* Bill 35 Short-Term Rental Accommodation Act, 2023
* Small-Scale, Multi-Unit Housing (SSMUH) + Changes to Local Government Act
+ Technical Briefing (Nov. 1) + Update (Nov. 7)
"In most areas within municipalities of more than 5,000 people, these changes will also require bylaws to allow for:
- three to four units permitted on lots currently zoned for single-family or duplex use, depending on lot size; and
- six units permitted on larger lots currently zoned for single-family or duplex use and close to transit stops with frequent service.
- Municipalities covered by the legislation (population 5k-plus) may permit additional density if desired, but cannot have bylaws that allow for fewer permitted units than the provincial legislation."
Directions to local governments:
"- All local governments: Update housing needs reports (HNR) using a standard method, for a more consistent, robust understanding of local housing needs over 20 years; (logical given every housing report I've seen is markedly unique)
- Municipalities: Plan for and engage communities on these needs in official community plans (OCP), updated every five years to reflect the most recent HNR so communities can plan together; (previous best-practice was every 10 years)
- Municipalities: Align zoning bylaws with the OCP and HNR to pre-zone for the 20-year total amount of housing their communities need; and
- All local governments: Eliminate redundant processes and one-off public hearings that slow down housing projects that already fit with community plans, and instead make best use of more frequent opportunities for people to be involved in shaping their communities earlier in the processes." (read Simon Fraser University's Renovate the Public Hearing reports for the pros/cons and possibilities)
- December 2023 – SSMUH policy manual and site standards provided to local governments.
- January 2024 – HNR instructions provided to local governments.
- January/February 2024 – Details announced for $51 million funding allocation.
- June 30, 2024 – Local governments must have updated their bylaws to accommodate SSMUH requirements
- June/July 2024 – OCP/zoning review/update instructions 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)."
* Standardized Housing Design Project (Nov. 16)
- "Standardized designs can substantially streamline the permitting process to make it easier for local governments to give building-permit approvals quickly and save builders and homeowners the costs that come from expensive design services." + RFP (deadline: Dec. 12, 2023) ~ "The consultation process will inform the design parameters for up to ten provincial designs for accessory dwelling units and multi-unit buildings up to four units per design that can be accommodated on a single detached lot."
- Small Housing BC + Gentle Density Network
- Small Housing Toolkit (PDF with 10 housing-type case studies). Defined in the glossary: Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ... Basement suite ... Coach homes ... Comprehensive development ... Cottage housing ... Cluster housing ... Detached townhomes ... Efficiency suite ... Granny flat ... Laneway housing ... Lock-off suite ... Mother-in-law suite ... Micro-suite ... Multi-flex family housing ... Pocket Neighbourhood ... Secondary suite
- The Vancouver Special
* More Homes Near Transit Hubs + Policy Framework (Nov. 8)
- Target: 100,000 new units to be built in TOD (Transit Oriented Development) areas in 30 BC municipalities
(unidentified to date, so the are-we/aren't-we question is unanswered. Our relatively modest transit hub is currently outside Village Foods, and is to be relocated to east of the library on Wadams Way as Lot A is developed. If we are to be included, then 10-storey buildings are to be allowed within 400 meters of the hub vs. our current maximum of six storeys anywhere within the town centre north of Sooke Rd.)
* Short-Term Residential Accommodations Act (Bill 35) - Oct. 16, 2023
* New rules for short-term rentals (Province of BC)
* Homes For People Action Plan (April 3, 2023)
- See Housing 101 for my comprehensive (read: exhaustive) blog entry from this spring
The Sooke context ...
* The red-tape issues that Sooke builders and our larger-scale out-of-town developers (based in Langford, Saanich, Campbell River, Vancouver, Richmond and elsewhere) face in working with the District have, in point of fact, existed here and everywhere else in BC and Canada as a whole for many years/decades.
* A solution to BC-wide permitting inefficiencies has been sought ever since Premier Horgan's newly formed government recognized that the province was facing a housing crisis after decades of inaction by Ottawa and the BC Liberals. Its Homes For BC housing affordability masterplan (2017) was followed a year later by the Development Permit Process Approvals Review (final report, 2019). The latter identified needed reforms to the system and was based on consultation with UBCM staff, local government officials, builders and developers, non-profit housing providers, academics and community representatives.
* The recommendations were backed by the UBCM's provincially funded Local Government Development Permit Approvals Program, which since 2021 has funded permit process reviews in 43 BC local governments.
* Sooke is one of these 43. In our case, we received $494k to undertake a top-to-bottom review and finance needed e-application software upgrades. A draft report from Urban Systems was sent to council last month and an information session attended by councillors Beddows, Pearson and myself followed. The final report will be released late this year or likely in early 2024. Existing bylaws, processes and statistics have been reviewed. Capacity levels, organizational structure and existing policies were discussed at length with District staff. Members of the building community (Sooke Builders Association included) were consulted at length. Best practices were adopted from sister reviews undertaken -- in a dozen cases by Urban Systems itself -- in other similar-sized local governments. And a full set of action items/recommendations are delivered so as to kickstart implementation ASAP in 2024.
* Without sharing any spoilers pending the final report, Urban's Development Application Processes Assessment and Recommendations summary report smartly addresses the key issues identified in BC's 2019 review, namely:
- incomplete or poor-quality submissions by applicants;
- increased complexity of building requirements;
- inconsistent development permit guidelines;
- contradictory advice from different local-government departments;
- lack of transparency on the status of development applications;
- lack of consistency of requirements between neighbouring local governments
* Question I ask again: Was there ever a golden era of fair and speedy building permit turnarounds as some seem to believe? Langford continues to be applauded for its so-called 48-hour permit approvals, but what's misunderstood (as I comprehend it) is that this speedy guarantee only kicks in following untold months of necessary groundwork by applicants and municipal staff; it requires submission of a complete building permit application, site plans, construction drawings, geotech review, professional engineering and other reports, and completion of all City of Langford approvals. That done, two working days is a breeze.
* Reality Check: The District is short-staffed and employees are hard to find here as in other local governments and employment sectors. Still to be hired is a Chief Administrative Officer, for most notable instance. The planning and building departments currently lack multiple key staff. The help-wanted list includes a Director of Planning (with this week's news that Matthew Pawlow has taken a position with the Ministry of Housing), Chief Building Official, a Building Official II, and a Planning and Development Administrator. Good news: Manager of Community Planning Jayden Riley has been hired recently. And former CBO Stan Dueck is pitching in part-time to help with building inspections.
* Two questions that District staff will bring forward for discussion with council in months ahead ...
1. What does the Province's Nov. 1 announcement mean for our pending Official Community Plan? Should we go ahead as intended once the new CAO is hired ... or wait until the promised June/July 2024 delivery of "OCP/zoning review/update instructions provided to municipalities"?
2. Likewise, the Local Government Act requires a new Housing Needs Assessment every five years. Our first-time 2019 version is due for an update a year from now. Directions on how to proceed with it will flow from Victoria in early 2024.
* "Patience, grasshopper, all is coming ..." (Source: Anonymous)
* BC housing legislation impact on democracy (Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch video, Nov. 17)
* Taking Stock of the BC NDP's Housing Blitz (The Tyee, Nov. 16 ... see comments)
* BC Housing Bills Transformational But Will Take Time (CBC, Nov. 11)
* BC United's Kevin Falcon Responds (Rob Shaw, Nov. 12)
* View Royal Mayor Sid Tobias Schedules Last Public Hearing On Housing - Times Colonist (Nov. 11, 2023)
* View Royal Wants Audit of BC Housing Legislation - Times Colonist (Nov. 10, 2023) + request letter
* BC Government Mulls Legislation to Stop Giving Housing Cash Directly to Munis - Vancouver Sun (Nov. 8)
* All Housing Theme Is All Consuming - Times Colonist (Nov. 8, 2023)
* Public Hearings Curbed In Housing Bill - Les Leyne, Times Colonist (Nov. 4, 2023)
* Burnaby Mayor Slams Housing Policy - Vancouver Sun (Nov. 4, 2023)
* Deputy Mayor Al Beddows' interview with CBC's Gregor Craigie (Nov. 3, 2023)
* Housing Bill Oversight Could Cost Municipalities Tens of Millions, say Mayors - Vancouver Sun (Nov. 3, 2023)
* Conservative Party of BC Platform incl. housing
- Urban Planning (Wikipedia)
- Young Anderson Bulletins
* Local Government and the Provincial Housing Agenda (Nov. 24)
* Province Introduces Significant Renovations (Nov. 3)
* Bill 44 Housing Statues (Residential Development) Amendment Act (Nov. 10)
"One of the significant impacts of Bill 44 will be the reduced scope for local governments to require amenities and amenity contributions in connection with Bill 44’s mandatory zoning requirements. Bill 46 attempts to alleviate this by amending the Local Government Act: (i) to expand the scope for development cost charges to provide funding for fire protection facilities, police facilities and solid waste and recycling facilities and (ii) to allow for the imposition of new “Amenity Cost Charges” (ACCs)."
- British Columbia Real Estate Association: The Province Goes Big On Housing Policy (Nov. 23)
- Urban Development Institute: Taxing Growth - Analysing the Taxes and Fees on New Development (PDF)
Related from this blog ...
- Building/Developing Sooke (May 30, 2023) ... I remain wholly confident that a productive new relationship with the revamped Sooke Builders Association will develop in time as everyone patiently, professionally moves forward as the new system gets established next year and proves itself to the point that understandable frustration, anger and past trauma begins to diminish.
- Our Up-Sooke-Sized Building Boom (August 26, 2022) ... Zoning and permits are in place, but ground remains resolutely unbroken in a number of situations for reasons I'm not privy to ... inflation, supply chains, labour shortages and the high cost of building anything/everything, most likely.
- Sooke's Evolving Road, Sidewalk and Roundabout Network (January 20, 2021) ... Town-centre portions of Otter Point and Church now complete; roundabout work well underway for Church/Throup with the Charters rebuild to follow next year.
- X Homes + Y People + Z Cars = ? (December 18, 2018) ... Still the defining equation in Sooke, I figure.
Screenshots from the Ministry of Housing Technical Brief ...