B.C. minister hints at withholding funding to municipalities who thwart affordable housing proposals

Lisa Cordasco
Housing Minister David Eby is threatening to municipalities in the pocket book if they frustrate efforts to built various forms of social housing. PHOTO BY PROVINCE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA /PNG

Nov 15, 2021

B.C. Housing Minister David Eby suggested he might use that stick with municipalities that refuse to acknowledge there is a housing supply problem that needs to be addressed.

B.C. Housing Minister David Eby is threatening to bring a financial hammer down on municipalities that do not cooperate in addressing the province’s housing affordability crisis.

Eby told a conference on affordable housing on Monday that his government “could withhold funding for programs if a municipality refuses to work on the supply challenge.”

He suggested he might use that stick with municipalities that refuse to acknowledge there is a housing supply problem that needs to be addressed.

Housing advocates and developers have said drawn-out municipal rezoning processes add more costs to developments, which makes them less affordable.

Municipalities have been told by the province they must submit a housing needs report by April 2021, outlining how much supply is needed now and in the future, based on expected growth. Eby suggested some communities have refused to acknowledge a crisis in housing supply.

“It’s fine to say that you are not interested in bringing more people into your community, but when you have thousands of people arriving in your community, through federal immigration policies and in-migration from other provinces, you need to match your official community plan with growth and with zoning,” said Eby.

The province set aside $5 million to assist municipalities to create their housing needs reports, but the minister did not confirm whether that was the funding that could be held back if municipalities thwart measures to create affordable or supportive housing.

Eby said a report commissioned by the provincial and federal governments called “Opening Doors” suggested that holding back funding could be an option if the cooperative approach does not work.

“It was outlined to us as a potential option, but it is not something that we are actively doing,” he said.

Eby said he was “frustrated” that a housing project in Surrey — a six-storey, 91-unit building to allow people with disabilities to live independently — failed after complaints by neighbours at a public hearing.

“Supporting adults with disabilities to have independent housing and having an independent life, you would think this would be a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s an example of where we’ve got the money, we’ve got the developer, we’ve got the non-profit to build it, but the municipality has acted as a gatekeeper in preventing it from being built.”

The Union of B.C. Municipalities did not respond to a question about Eby’s threat, but president Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, said in a written statement that about 90 per cent of municipalities are working with the province already on housing affordability.

“Local governments have demonstrated a high level of engagement with this provincial initiative,” she wrote, “with well over 90 per cent having reports completed or underway. Housing affordability and attainability is a challenge for communities throughout B.C., and local governments have welcomed provincial support for improved data on local needs.”

In an effort to speed up municipal approval processes, and avoid the “not-in-my-backyard” backlash faced by municipalities when considering higher density projects, the province introduced legislation last month that would allow housing projects to be approved without going to a public hearing, if it matches the official community plan. However, a municipality can order a public hearing if it believes it is in the public interest.

Eby has also used provincial powers to override municipal objections to some of his government’s supportive housing projects.

On Friday, the province announced its decision to move residents of a temporary housing unit on Royal Crescent by building a permanent, 52-unit housing facility without the approval of Maple Ridge council. The province said it was accelerating the project straight to construction under the legal authority it says gives the province the right to do so.

In March, the B.C. government used its legal authority to override the wishes of Penticton city council in keeping a homeless shelter open. The City of Penticton is challenging the province’s powers to do so in a suit in B.C. Supreme Court.

B.C.’s 10-year housing plan promises $7 billion dollars to build 114,000 units that include supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness or addiction, social housing initiatives directed at Indigenous populations, people with disabilities, women escaping domestic violence, and housing based on income levels, under-market priced units and what are called “off-market units” which includes housing run by co-ops and non-profit housing societies.

— with files from Dan Fumano