Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon tabled legislation Wednesday (Nov. 1) that allows for more density in most but not all communities in B.C.
Starting July 1, 2024, developers will be able to start building a minimum of three and up to six units on lots currently zoned for single-family homes and duplexes in municipalities above 5,000 people home to 90 per cent of the provincial population.
The legislation also legalizes secondary suites and lane-way homes across the province and promises to streamline the zoning process.
“This is a significant piece of of legislation for B.C.,” Kahlon said at a news conference in Victoria. Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock and Victoria resident April McNeil joined him.
Central to the so-called small-scale, multi-unit (SSMU) legislation is the proposed up-zoning of single-family and duplex lots across 85 municipalities in B.C. to create what expert call missing-middle housing: housing that is more dense than single-family housing, but less dense than multi-storied condominium buildings.
Developers would be able to build three units on lots below 280 square-metres, four units on lots larger than 280 square-metres. Municipalities must allow at least six units on lots above 280 square-metres if they are located near frequent transit routes.
The legislation means that local governments can no longer exclusively zone neighbourhoods for single-family lots in echoing legislation from New Zealand and government predicts that the changes could create 130,000 new units over the next decade.
Murdock welcomed the changes. He said they will allow residents to stay in their communities of choice rather than move to municipalities
But Kahlon also stressed that the legislation does not spell the end of single-family homes. If single-family homes remain desirable, they will continue to be built, he said. “What we are saying with this legislation that there should be options,” he said.
Kahlon also responded to the implied criticism that the legislation will raise the property values of single-family homes. While Kahlon acknowledged this lift, it will be minimal, because it will happen across the province, adding that all parts of the province must do their part to help with housing. He also argued that the legislation will make individual units cheaper than they would be otherwise.
The SSMU legislation grandfathers municipalities which already permit small-scale, multi-unit housing units such as Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna and Kimberley. Kahlon said that he expects those municipalities to adopt provincial standards. Municipalities below 5,000 can opt into the legislation.
Following passage of the legislation in the fall and the release of a provincial policy manual, municipalities face several deadlines. They must update their local bylaws to accommodate SSMU housing by June 30 unless they wish to invite a ministerial order. They must also complete interim housing reports by Dec. 31, 2024 and update their official community plans by Dec. 31, 2025.
The legislation also promises to streamline the zoning process by phasing out one-off and site-by-site public hearings for rezonings for housing projects consistent with OCPs, including mixed use projects with at least 50 per cent of housing.
Local governments will still have to hold public hearings whenever they update or develop new OCPs or if they consider rezonings for projects not consistent with their OCPs.
Government instead promises more frequent and earlier public hearing engagement through the OCP process, which must now be updated every five years.
Development permits, building permits and any required zoning changes beyond SSMU zoning bylaws still require local government approval.
The legislation also requires municipalities to standardize their housing needs report and make them more forward-looking to plan for enough homes for 20 years rather than just five years.
The province has budgeted $51 million to help municipalities.
Kahlon said government is also working with the City of Vancouver to bring their public participation process in line.