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The B.C. government will overhaul municipal zoning rules to allow for more so-called “missing-middle” housing, such as townhomes and multiplex homes on single-family lots. It will also introduce a flipping tax and legalize all secondary suites as part of Premier David Eby’s housing strategy announced on Monday.

Critics, however, said the plan lacks specific details and a sense of urgency since most of the required legislation won’t be introduced until the fall. There are also concerns that upzoning single-family lots could push land prices up further as homeowners jockey to sell to developers at the highest price.

“Simply put, we need to build more homes for people faster,” Eby said during a news conference in Victoria. Later this year, the NDP will introduce legislation that will allow three to four units on a traditional single-family detached lot, and even higher density in areas close to transit hubs.

“Single-family detached homes are out of reach for many middle-class people. And one- or two-bedroom condos often don’t meet the needs of growing families. Family friendly neighbourhoods need more small-scale, multi-unit homes.”

Once passed, the new legislation will mean that when a multi-unit development on a single-family lot goes before a municipal council, as long as it meets all the parameters around setbacks and size, the council must approve the project.

The debate over missing-middle housing has been divisive in many communities, with proponents calling for creative solutions that will make owning a home more attainable. Opponents question whether missing-middle housing will actually bring prices down.

In Wilson Commons, the townhome development that served as the backdrop to Eby’s announcement, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse is listed for $999,000 in a city where the average price of the single-family home is just under $1 million.

Those kind of prices, B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen said, show that the government’s reliance on the market to create the necessary housing has only made real estate more expensive.

“The market has created these conditions, and now you’re just going to put a bunch more public money into it and say, ‘The thing that broke it is the thing that’s going to fix it.’ There’s a very serious breakdown and cognitive dissonance,” Olsen said.

The City of Victoria in January passed its missing-middle housing policy, which will allow up to six units to be built on a single-family lot. Vancouver council is considering whether to legalize buildings with up to six units on a single-family lot on low-density residential side streets.

Luke Mari of Victoria-based Aryze Developments said a B.C.-wide missing-middle policy will create a new type of real estate developer, the “homeowner developer” who will be able to build a triplex in their backyard without a lengthy rezoning process.

It makes no sense, Eby said, that a homeowner can easily tear down their home to build a bigger one without a complex rezoning process, but the process to build a multi-unit home for several families takes up to two years to green light.

The move to create more missing-middle housing was applauded by Bridget Ryan, a Victoria renter and post-doctoral student at the University of Victoria who said she “feels trapped by this market.”

The 36-year-old said she and her husband have put off having kids until they find stable, long-term housing.

“This obviously has the potential to have some fairly significant changes in communities,” said Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West. However, he stressed the province will have to work with municipalities to ensure adequate infrastructure services are added to support increased density.

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch said he is concerned that “at first blush (the policy) seems to gut all of the land-use planning that (municipalities) have.”
“What’s not clear to me at this point is where we need to have some control and where we want to shape the communities that we want to live in, if the municipalities will have any control over those aspects.”

B.C. Liberal housing critic Karin Kirkpatrick worries the upzoning policy could actually increase speculation as single-family lots could rise in value based on their development potential.

The danger with province-wide upzoning is that it could result in a land rush, said Andy Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University.

“Will speculators and investors suddenly rush in to purchase real estate at sizable markups in anticipation of the idea that they can build more?” he asked.

Yan applauded the overall plan, saying it “really touched upon not only just one aspect of housing policy, but several with supply, demand and finance.”

The Union of B.C. Municipalities will be talking to local mayors and councillors for feedback on the province-wide rezoning for single-family lots, said UBCM president Jen Ford.

“Whenever (provincial) jurisdiction crosses into zoning and land use, we certainly want to hear from our members, and our members want to be engaged by the province before that regulation comes into effect,” Ford said.

The B.C. government will also legalize all secondary suites in B.C., taking the choice away from municipalities. In some communities, secondary suites are still illegal, a policy Eby says chokes the supply of affordable rentals.

Starting next year, the province will offer loans up to a maximum of $40,000 for homeowners to build and rent secondary suites. The loans will be forgiven as long as the homeowner rents the unit at below-market rates for at least five years.

That underscores the inequity between government-funded help for homeowners versus renters, Kirkpatrick said, noting that renters are only eligible for the $400-a-year income-tested tax credit, which works out to just $33 a month.

British Columbians who buy a home just to flip it for a profit will also be hit with a flipping tax that will be introduced later this year.

“If your lifestyle depends on flipping houses, you’re going to be upset by this tax,” Eby said, adding that homes should be for families, not for speculators.

There were few details about the tax rate, but Eby’s housing platform, released before he became premier, said the tax would apply to those who hold a residential property for two years or less. The quicker someone buys and sells a home, the higher the tax would be.

The government will also work with municipalities to strengthen enforcement of short-term rentals such as Airbnbs to ensure people aren’t operating them under the radar without paying the required taxes.

Eby promised to build 6,000 more affordable homes through the Community Housing Fund. Some B.C. mayors have complained that shovel-ready affordable housing projects are languishing because of a lack of funding from B.C. Housing.

In December, Eby admitted there’s a backlog in government funding for affordable housing, with B.C. Housing only approving one out of five applications for new affordable housing from non-profit organizations.

Eby also said the plan will provide more housing for people living on the street, including 3,900 more supportive housing units and 240 more purpose-built complex care housing units for people with severe mental-health and addictions issues. The government pledged to build another 1,750 homes to be built for Indigenous people living on and off reserve, and another 4,000 on-campus homes for students.

The plan references Eby’s January announcement that the province will create a streamlined provincial housing permit system that will bring approval times to months instead of the current wait time of two years.

Eby’s Housing Supply Act, which will take effect later this year, will set housing targets for municipalities. Municipalities that meet those targets will get provincial cash for amenities, such as parks, bike lanes and recreation centres. Those that don’t meet the target face the risk of being overruled by the province, which has the power to rezone entire neighbourhoods to create more density.


Story by: Vancouver Sun