The Province has certainly generated a lot of discussion about its recent affordable housing strategy and legislation designed to address the provincial housing crisis. But can it achieve all that it promises?

Reactions by local governments and their leaders across the province vary, with a majority seemingly supportive of such groundbreaking changes to how communities plan for growth. There are some voices, however, that are less enthusiastic about how the changes were imposed, without any local consultation or collaboration. Some equate the loss of the public voice in community planning to existential questions for local democracy and local government generally.

The biggest changes currently are at the local community level, where municipalities no longer have full control over how their communities are zoned for land use. Gone are single family dwelling (SFD} zoning and public hearings for proposed developments, both of which could potentially up-end existing Official Community Plans. As longstanding cornerstones of how communities grow and develop, these Plans have been useful in providing guidance on housing density. I understand that, in the meantime, more details about legislative impacts on local governments and their planning services will be revealed by the Province in the near future.

There are, however, some obvious barriers that municipalities and zoning changes cannot control, such as:
  • interest rates on mortgages and other forms of borrowing;
  • cost of living tied to inflation;
  • costs of construction materials and labour shortages;
  • aging infrastructure that cannot accommodate new development and density pressure without substantial funding  investments from other levels of government;
  • addressing high rents, to lower and stabilize them, and to make “missing middle housing” truly accessible for middle or below market income earners;
  • investors and land assembly, foreign investment and absentee ownership;
  • the effects of a real estate industry that is profit-driven;
  • the loss of trees and green space from high density development that impacts community goals for environmental protection and climate change mitigation; and,
  • existential questions about local democracy, the role of local government, and the future of public engagement/input in community land use.

Fingers crossed that BC can truly legislate housing affordability. As municipalities chase density, my hope is that the public will win the race, that housing will become much less about an investment portfolio and much more about securing an affordable place to call home. But as a former senior policy analyst and as a Councillor with 14 years’ experience serving in two communities, I see these issues not only as real policy challenges but also as practical ones on the ground.