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NewsUpdates to BC Legislation allowing SSMU and more

On Nov. 1, the BC NDP revealed the result of their work on accelerating housing supply at the provincial level by introducing big changes to Municipalities in BC.

Changes to Zoning and Public Hearing Processes:

  1. Small Scale Multi-Unit (SSMU): Allows multiple units on most residential single family zoned areas in cities around the province. Specially 3 units on lots smaller than 3012 sqft. and 4 units on lots larger than 3012 sqft. Furthermore, the regulation incorporates TOD (transit oriented development) ideas by allowing 6 units on lots close to transit.
  2. Changes to approval processes: Forbids public hearings for rezonings that are in accordance with established OCPs. Instead encourages engagement during the application process. For City of Vancouver though, as a charter city that isn’t required to have an OCP, the province is working on alternative arrangements. The idea is that OCPs are already highly consultative processes and that the considerable amount of time needed to re-open discussion every time a new project is proposed, in accordance with the OCP, is counterproductive and slows down housing supply.

When is this happening?

  • Dec. 2023 will provide further details on any requirements for heights, setbacks, site coverages etc.
  • June 2024 is when local governments need to update zoning to conform with new requirements

Impact all municipalities with more than 5000 people:

Some municipalities like Vancouver and Victoria already have regulation in place for multiplexes. Although Victoria has had challenges with receiving any applications under the new policy because of how restrictive the policies are.

It’s quite likely the provincial policy may force Victoria to update their policy. The recent Vancouver policy that was passed appears to allow better feasibility for projects.

Updates to local zoning required:

The province will be requiring municipalities, by June 30, 2024, to update their own zoning codes to conform with the provincial statute. This is possible because municipalities are governed by provincial law – the Local Government Act, and these amendments are made in that act.

Why is this happening?

While currently, local municipalities have mostly presided over zoning matters, the reticence or slow pace of city councils to make meaningful changes to encourage housing supply around the province has essentially emboldened the province to take some of those powers away.

There is a good argument for the rebalancing of planning powers between levels of government and on different geospatial scales (larger). A locality may seek to limit change and development to suit their self interest, but that may run counter to the interests of others who wish to move into an area. That is, someone from Kelowna who wishes to move to Vancouver has no political say in how much housing Vancouver builds. The effect also goes in reverse. Due to spillover housing demand from Vancouver not providing enough supply, Langley may experience strong suburban growth or very tight rental and housing markets. Essentially that the municipal planning policies in Vancouver can have large effects on surrounding municipalities, the residents of which have no representation on Vancouver city council. On the hyperlocal level, the same thing can play out at public hearings, neighbours to a project may object to the change in their neighbourhood, while those who benefit from additional housing supply – those that may move to that neighbourhood, are not aware or represented at public hearings. This can lead to an overemphasis on anti-development views.

Therefor, an argument can be made that the change in geospatial scale and level of government of planning and development powers can be more democratic.

Possible Impact:

A place that has gone through a shift in planning powers is Japan. One of the main differences between Japan zoning and North America’s is that the geospatial scale of zoning in Japan is national. While local government scan set planning policies, the balance of power is not concentrated at the municipal level.

Partially as a result, Japan builds a lot of housing for its population growth, and Tokyo is probably the most affordable large global city. Nationwide, housing costs are less than 15% of household expenditures, a relatively low amount compared to other developed countries.

This policy may have similar impacts in increasing housing supply speed and responsiveness to market demands. Studies commissioned by the BC NDP indicate that they expect to see upwards of 130,000 SSMUs over 10 years. But also like Japan, the policy will likely receive criticism for taking away local power and leading to more architecturally messy neighborhoods.