Encouraging News from the Frontlines of the Housing Crisis Computronix

Encouraging News from the Frontlines of the Housing Crisis

In recent years, the Province of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver specifically have represented the ‘front lines’ of the affordable housing crisis. A 2023 analysis ranked British Columbia as the province with the highest cost of living in Canada with Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo and Surrey (BC cities all) landing within the top ten of the most expensive cities in Canada. In Vancouver, the costs of the housing crisis are especially dire with the picturesque paradise frequently cited as the most unaffordable city in North America. And yes, this includes the likes of New York, Toronto, Miami and Los Angeles, as formidable competition.

In recent years, government leaders in British Columbia have tried to turn this tide with legislation targeting speculative offshore investment and short-term vacation rentals. However, 2023 represented a true sea change in public policy with the Province introducing an aggressive array of policies designed to fast-track affordable housing supplies. Projected to create between 216,000 and 293,000 additional net-new housing units for British Columbians over the next 10 years, the key tactics announced are as follows:

  • Building density near transit
    Consistent with current public policy across much of North America, British Columbia’s Homes for People plan (announced in 2023) emphasizes zoning and land-use changes designed to increase both new builds and the transition of existing housing into higher density inventory, particularly in areas adjacent to major transit nodes. From relaxing zoning permits to incentivizing fourplexes on single home lots, building out key transportation corridors for maximal housing density is very much a critical area of focus. In the Vancouver region this means at least eight-storey buildings within 800 metres of a SkyTrain station and 20 or more storeys within 200 metres. To help spur this activity, the province is offering forgivable loans for homeowners to build and rent secondary suites below market rates to increase affordable rental supply quickly.
  • Limiting vacation rentals and quick flips
    Cognizant that new builds alone will not satisfy the present and future demand for affordable housing in BC, the province remains committed to freeing up viable inventory by limiting housing currently allocated for short-term rentals. As of May 1, 2024, the Province is implementing a provincial principal residence requirement which will limit short-term rentals to the host’s principal residence plus one secondary suite or accessory dwelling unit. Hosts will be required to include a provincial registration number on their listing. Vacation rental platforms will be required to validate registration numbers on host listings against the Province’s registry data. The province is also introducing a ‘flipping tax’ to discourage short-term speculation.
  • Preapproved housing designs
    To speed new builds to market, the province is creating new standardized, customizable residential designs for small-scale, multi-unit housing built on single lots. These designs can be adopted by local governments and offered to builders and homeowners at a significantly below-market cost to expedite permitting and development. The move follows the recent introduction of legislation that, when passed, will allow three to four units on land currently zoned for single-family homes and duplexes, and as many as six units near bus stops with frequent transit service.
  • Phasing out one-off public hearings
    Accompanying legislation requiring local governments to update their zoning bylaws to permit additional secondary suites and multi-unit buildings, the changes will also phase out one-off public hearings over rezonings for housing developments consistent with official community plans.
    “Those torturous moments when you’re standing at your city council, making the pitch for housing that people desperately need, and a bunch of people [are] lining up at the mic to explain why you’re going to destroy their neighbourhood. Those are going to be a thing of the past,” stated British Columbia Premier David Eby.
  • Creation of a ‘Land Bank’ for government owned property
    British Columbia is putting together a “land bank” that will consist of public land to be used towards the creation of affordable housing. The bank will include provincial, federal and municipal lands, and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon says that he expects the initiative, called BC Builds, to be launched early in 2024. When BC Builds is up and running, the province will partner with developers to build housing for middle-income households, but the government will retain ownership through leasehold land arrangements.
  • Modernizing permitting processes
    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, British Columbia is looking to streamline and modernize digital permitting processes across the province. Leveraging funds available via the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF), the Province has set aggressive housing targets for several BC municipalities. To support them in reaching these goals, the Province has allocated $10 million for continued implementation of the Development Approvals Process Review, along with efforts to accelerate and streamline provincial permitting across multiple ministries including the development of a new digital permitting process.
Permitting Modernization a Key Dependency in New Housing Initiatives

 

While it is often buried in the fine print of various legislative housing initiatives across North America, the provision of resources to modernize permitting systems is in fact a key dependency for all cities and/or counties striving to solve the housing crisis in their specific jurisdiction. With funding allocations from senior levels of government often contingent upon a jurisdiction’s ability to meet and/or exceed aggressive deadlines for new housing starts, community development leaders often find themselves in a Catch 22 situation with political will and funding for new housing now readily available while archaic technology and permitting processes continue to hamper their ability to expedite planning and permitting approvals at the speed and scale demanded. To overcome these constraints, there is a growing trend to simply throw more bodies at the process by hiring short-term consultants to administer permitting processes. While effective as a short-term solution, such tactics fail to scale effectively compared to the more sustainable long-term solution of modernizing legacy systems for increased digital permitting efficiencies.

Fortunately for British Columbians, recent events seem to indicate that government leaders recognize the critical role that modernizing permitting processes will play in meeting the Province’s aggressive new housing targets. BC’s Permitting Strategy for Housing confirmed the objective to create a ‘One Stop’ approach to housing-related permits to speed up the process and eliminate the need for multiple applications across ministries. Currently, authorizations related to homebuilding in B.C. can require multiple provincial permit applications spanning different ministries with different processes. This includes permits related to riparian area approvals, water licences, transportation approvals, road rezonings, contaminated sites, and requirements for heritage inspections. In September of 2023, the Province launched the Single Housing Application Service bulwarked with an accompanying investment of 42 new full-time positions to assist applicants to better understand and progress within the Province’s often complex multi-stakeholder permitting process.

To reinvent their own local permitting processes, the City of Vancouver has taken a bold step forward working with Archistar, a recently announced partner of Computronix, to launch powerful new AI tools designed to quickly establish the compliance of submitted designs and drawings vs. civic building codes and permitting regulations. “Embracing technology for permitting will have a huge impact on Vancouver’s residents and businesses. Applicants will receive feedback on any items that are incomplete, missing or not permitted so they can resolve it before they submit their application,” said Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim.

Mayor Sim’s comments on the vital need to embrace modern permitting technology seems particularly prophetic when one considers the sheer amount of emergent information that present day permitting systems are expected to gather, vet, organize, communicate, and publish. Over and above the often-complex development plan and building permit applications themselves, the following represents just a small sample of the diverse and time sensitive information that must be processed quickly and efficiently to facilitate timely permitting approvals.

  • New building code regulations designed to improve building safety and/or Net Zero compliance.
  • New permitting, zoning, and planning regulations, consistent with recent legislation updates.
  • Transparent and timely information exchange between jurisdictions, stakeholders, and joint partners.
  • Collaborative information exchange between builders/developers and civic planning/permitting personnel, affording a common frame of reference on all tasks and development project requirements in real-time.
Must Haves From Modern Digital Permitting Solutions

 

Given the vast breadth of the information being exchanged and the diverse stakeholders involved, it is here that mature permitting solutions like POSSE PLS prove invaluable in leveraging cutting-edge workflow automation to efficiently progress all stakeholders through a guided, coherent digital permitting process. In addition to facilitating streamlined permitting processes, proven systems like POSSE PLS are highly configurable enabling Community Development Agencies to optimize permitting workflows expediently as new codes, regulations, and enforcement standards emerge—both locally and from other echelons of government. Consider some real-world examples:

  • In the Halton and Durham regions in Ontario, POSSE solutions are used to manage a multifaceted mandate requiring efficient and transparent information exchange between Planning Services and Public Works departments and their counterparts in other municipalities and external agencies.
  • In the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Powered by POSSE solutions enable true ‘One-Stop’ digital permitting portals leading to demonstrable gains in turnaround times for permitting review and approvals.
  • In the City of Edmonton, digital permitting capabilities equipped by POSSE are helping to facilitate award-winning recognition for government red-tape reduction while saving citizens $4.6 million on the bottom line.

While these are just a handful of the many cities that have modernized their permitting process with Powered by POSSE solutions, it is clear that a good news story is starting to emerge on the affordable housing crisis front:

  1. Led by jurisdictions on the frontlines like those in British Columbia, political will is now translating into demonstrable action to solve the affordable housing shortfall with the necessary budgets, policies, tactics, and technologies being progressed.
  2. The cornerstone digital permitting solutions needed to drive these initiatives forward already exists in the form of proven solutions like POSSE PLS.
  3. Government leaders are tackling this critical technology dependency with dedicated funding available on both the provincial and federal levels to progress the modernization of permitting systems for civic and regional jurisdictions alike. The situation is strikingly similar in the US where new funding opportunities are also emerging to help jurisdictions getting by with legacy software modernize their digital permitting systems.

Yes, developments are finally starting to look promising on the housing crisis front, but with so many new initiatives dependent upon the timely rollout of aggressive legislation and the resultant regulations, building standards, and cross jurisdictional/stakeholder cooperation, it has never been more important to get the technology part of the equation right. Failure to put the critical permitting infrastructure needed in place carries the potential to undermine almost every policy now being implemented. The time to act is now.

Request a Discovery Demo Today

 

Are you leading the charge for permitting modernization in your agency? Contact us today to arrange a free no-obligation demonstration of POSSE PLS. As exciting as it is to consider the potential of the new ideas being brought to bear to solve the affordable housing crisis at last, it’s equally exciting to see the new technology and tools that will bring these policies and regulations to life for colleagues and citizens alike.

Encouraging News from the Frontlines of the Housing Crisis