British Columbia has a diverse housing market, with several communities among the most expensive in Canada for home ownership and rental accommodation.

Since the early 80s, the gap between house prices and household income in B.C. has widened. Housing prices went from 3 or 4 times household income in the early 1980s to around 7 or 8 times household income by 2008.

Over the next twenty years the population of B.C. is expected to increase by 1.6 million people, or approximately 37%. Most of this growth will be concentrated in urban centres, particularly Vancouver and the Lower Mainland– areas that already have high housing costs and limited land to grow outward to accommodate this influx of new residents.

As the population expands, demand for housing will increase and governments and other partners will need to work together to accomodate growth and retain affordability. There are a number of strategies and actions that the province and local governments are taking to help increase affordable market housing options.

STRATEGY 1: Plan for Affordable Units

Develop Housing Strategies and Set Housing Targets
A housing strategy contains recommendations, policies and priorities to help a local government meet housing needs in their community. Typically based on historic and projected trends (e.g. demographic, income), existing housing supply and planned and current development, it can also include targets and types of housing units required to meet estimated demand.

Increase Housing Options and Density Near Transit
High density developments support higher ridership and contribute to the viability of a public transportation system, in particular rapid transit service.  Affordability is achieved in transit-oriented developments through an overall reduction in the family’s budget, with lower car related expenditures offsetting higher housing costs.  Other factors that contribute to successful development and affordable housing along rapid transit corridors are: a broad mix of different housing types, local shopping and community amenities, employment centres located along the lines, and excellent walking and cycling facilities.

Enter Into Transit Development Agreements
Agreements between Local governments, transit agencies, and/or developers that coordinate how a project will be built.  These agreements are particularly useful when transit facilities will be integrated into a development or when the provision of transit is a key component of an area’s transportation plan.

Expand Secondary Suites and Laneway Homes in Existing Neighbourhoods
Secondary suites and laneway homes provide additional small-unit rental accommodation and help people become home owners through a mortgage helper. Policies and bylaws can ensure that units are in keeping with the scale and character of the neighbourhood, contributing to a “gentle” densification of the community.

Implement Inclusionary Zoning Regulations
Requires an applicant to provide some contribution towards affordable housing as part of a rezoning process. The contribution can be a specified percentage or number of units (in the new development or on a different site), or cash-in-lieu to be used for affordable housing. A system is required to administer the rental or sale of the units and to ensure that the units remain affordable over time.

STRATEGY 2: Streamline Approvals

Fast-Track Approvals
This can include moving affordable housing development applications to the head of the queue, operational efficiencies to streamline the approval process and/or targets for processing times. Local governments may also encourage builders to complete checklists before applying for permits or delegate authority for some approvals to staff.

Waive Public Hearing for Some Developments
Public hearings can create an adversarial environment, often when a proposal changes the status quo and generates local resistance to new development. Waiving the public hearing for some developments can remove the confrontational nature of the discussion but should only be done when adequate community input was obtained during the Official Community Plan or Regional Growth Strategy process.

Pre-Zone Land For Small, More Affordable Housing
Re-zoning costs can increase unit costs and work against affordability. Pre-zoning a sufficient number of appropriate sites to meet targets in a housing strategy can reduce the cost and uncertainty related to the re-zoning process and make this type of development more attractive to build.

Apply Consistent Technical Building Standards Across the Province
A uniform Provincial building code applies the same consistent and rigorously-developed technical building standards across the province.  It simplifies compliance — designers and builders must meet the same standards wherever they build, increasing efficiency, lowering costs and supporting housing affordability.

Coordinate Provincial Agency Decisions
Depending on the location of a proposed development, provincial approvals may be required and can result in additional costs and delays for the proponent that local governments cannot control. For example, when a provincial highway runs through the City, development projects along the highway, or ones that need access from the highway, require approval from the Ministry of Transportation. The Ministry can require additional studies that add to the proponents’ costs and has a standard timeframe for review that further delays approval.

STRATEGY 3: Provide Incentives

Density Bonus to Encourage Affordable Units
A density bonus is a voluntary agreement between a developer and a local government. The developer can build to a higher density than that specified in the zoning bylaw in return for providing amenities to the community, in this case affordable housing units.

Reduce DCCs for Smaller Units
Development cost charges (DCCs) that are based on the area or volume of the unit are lower for smaller units. Lower DCCs result in reduced construction costs and serve as an incentive for developers to build smaller rather than larger units.

Provide Property Tax Exemptions
A local government can establish a revitalization program, enter into agreements with property owners, and exempt their property from taxation once all specified conditions of the program and the agreement have been met.  This can help achieve social objectives, such as encouraging affordable housing or the construction and preservation of affordable rental housing.

Reduce Permit Fees
Permit application fees contribute to the cost of development. A reduction in fees for smaller, more affordable housing units can be an incentive for developers to build this type of housing.

STRATEGY 4: Reduce Barriers

Expand Use of Fee Simple Row Housing
Fee simple row housing is a desirable unit type and tenure. It provides some of the features that ground-oriented detached housing offers, more affordably and without the strata component, which is a deterrent to some home buyers. Perceived legal barriers to this form of housing have limited uptake in some jurisdictions.

Reduce Parking Requirements
Parking facilities can add significantly to the cost of a development. Reducing the number of parking spaces saves construction costs and ultimately lowers the cost of the unit to the consumer. Combined with smaller units and a location near transit the collective reduction in housing and vehicle related costs, this strategy will contribute to more affordable units.

Develop Provincial Website with Resources and Comparative Data
A provincial website with links to housing publications, sample bylaws and other resources relevant to local governments and including data comparing such factors as DCCs, residential taxes and charges, and approval times by jurisdiction.

UBCM 2010 Ballot: At the 2010 Union of BC Municipalities convention, delegates were asked about what they thought about the strategies listed above.

Download a pdf version of the strategies.