Housing & Bill 46

I’m writing a series of posts about the recent changes the provincial government has introduced to drive the development of new housing in the region and province. In the first post, I wrote about Bill 44 and multiplexes, and some of the complications of putting 4-plexes on lots across New West. I sort of skipped past the 6-plex part of the story. While 4-plexes will be permitted on all “single family” lots in New West, the bill also suggests 6-plexes will be permitted on all residential lots near Transit stops with Frequent Service.

This may shake out in details, but it looks like “near” will mean within 400m, and I have no reason to believe the Province won’t apply TransLink’s “Frequent Service” designation, as show on this map:

I quickly drew 400m radius circles around Frequent Transit Service stops in New Westminster. By my admittedly preliminary assessment, all of New Westminster covered in blue here will be pre-approved for six-plexes:

Note this is a significant part of the Brow of the Hill, Moody Park, Queens Park, Glenbrook North, and Queensborough.  The unshaded areas will be permitted four-plexes in all residential zones under Bill 44. The gray-shaded areas are Transit Oriented Development areas that we’ll discuss when I get to Bill 47 in the next Blog Post. But first, let’s look at:

Bill 46: Paying for growth!
This Bill recognizes that local governments use the power of zoning to pay for infrastructure required to support that growth. With a de-emphasis on zoning, this raised some significant concern about how we will pay for the infrastructure needs that will only increase as we rapidly build new housing. This Bill both gives local governments more tools to do that, while also taking away some other tools.

The biggest tool local governments have for raising money for growth-supporting infrastructure is the Development Cost Charge, or DCC. This is a very prescriptive tool, and most large and medium-sized cities use it in some form, as do Metro Vancouver. In New Westminster, we use it for sewer, drainage, and water utilities, and for park space expansion. It works like this:

A local government identifies through its OCP the amount of growth the community or a neighbourhood will see in the decades ahead. They then evaluate some utility projects that will be needed to support that growth: bigger water pipes, bigger sewer pipes, pump stations, etc. They then (and this is important) plan and budget those improvements. They then make some determination of what percentage of the cost of that project should be allocated to new growth, and what percentage should be charge to existing users, after all we need to replace infrastructure occasionally even without growth.

So lets assume (and all of these numbers are false for simplicity, used just for example) we expect 10,000 new units in Queensborough in the next 20 years, and to support those we need to spend $20 Million in sewer upgrades. We could assume 50% of this cost should go to existing users, so we need to raise $10 Million in DCCs from those 10,000 units. We then apply a $1,000 DCC to each of those new units, and the developer pays that to the City before they are permitted to build. Meanwhile, sewer utility rates go up in the neighbourhood to collect the other $10 Million from existing users. The City puts that collected money in an earmarked reserve, and can only spend it on that sewer project.

Under the current legislation, Local Government can only collect DCCs for specific uses: mostly water, sewer, drainage, roads, and parks acquisition. Bill 46 adds other infrastructure to the pool of things Local Governments can fund through DCCs, including fire halls, police facilities and solid-waste facilities. This is good if you are of the belief that “Growth should pay for Growth”, though the jury is still out on that assumption.

Another tool local governments use to fund infrastructure and amenities in their community are the slightly-misnamed Voluntary Amenity Charges. As its basic level, this is a cash payment developers make to local governments to sweeten the pot of approving a development. Cities are not allowed to demand these (“voluntary” is right in the name!), but they are allowed to suggest what an appropriate contribution might be, based on the size of the development. Developers could offer it or not, but when Cities ultimately and say “no” t rezoning to any development, it starts to not sound so voluntary. And to many, it sounds pretty shady. So Bill 46 is going to do away with VACs. Whether that is good or bad depends on how the City has used them, I suppose.

The City of New Westminster is pretty transparent when it comes to VACs and base expectations on the type of development and location. The City and Developer also commonly work together to develop pro forma estimates of the value of land lift the City is giving a developer when they grant rezoning for larger density projects. The City expects some amenity for the community to come from that “land lift” value. If we are increasing the value of a developer’s land by Millions of dollars when giving them rezoning, the City wants its pound of flesh. Maybe the developer provides a childcare space for a non-profit, or park trail improvements by their property, or a portion of the development be given to a non-profit for affordable housing. These are the kinds of negotiations that happen typically at Rezoning. The VACs are part of that amenity package that the City uses to assess if the community got its share. The City of New Westminster does not put and cash received as VAC into general revenue, but puts it in pre-established reserve funds to pay for everything from Affordable Housing to Childcare to Public Art.

Bill 46 plans to do away with this, and with so much density increase not relying on rezoning, the lever we have as a local government to demand expect Voluntary Amenity Charges is going away anyway. The Province recognizes this and is bringing in a new tool called Amenity Cost Charges. In short, it looks like ACCs are going to operate more or less like DCCs, but will be applicable for a wider range of purposes, including those that VACs often funded, like community and recreation centres and libraries.

The positive side of this is that the charges will be more predictable and earmarked for specific uses, creating a more transparent process. The downside is that local governments will lose some flexibility in how these funds are used – we can’t load up a VAC reserve and apply it to a library or piece of public art or playground enhancements when we feel like it, but must pre-determine and cost the projects that will be funded. That planning a decade or more ahead on community needs and putting a projects cost on them is actually a LOT of technical work for staff in Planning, in Engineering, in Parks, in the Library, etc.

Ultimately, the increased transparency and predictability comes at the cost of more oversight and work required by staff, and perhaps some loss of flexibility in how a community decides to develop amenities. Overall, though, I think it is a better way to do governance and it creates more certainty for the development community and the community at large. If I have a concern it is in our ability to staff up that planning work in time to assure we collect sufficient ACCs if the Transit Oriented Development changes in Bill 47 lead to a building boom. Which I will write about in the next post.

Housing & Bill 44

There has been a *lot* going on in the housing file in BC over the last month. The announcements have been fast and furious from the Ministry of Housing and the Premier, and the responses from Local Governments, housing advocates, and status quo defenders have been all over the place – from this being the worst overreach in provincial history to a long-overdue response to a crisis 20 years in the making. My own feelings about it are similarly all over the place, so I figured I would take some time to unpack it all from a New Westminster perspective, and from the perspective of a local government elected person who has been advocating for serious action on the housing crises.

Maybe I should do one of those caveats where I say “all of this is my opinion, not the official position of the City or anyone else on Council”.  An additional caveat may be that this is all a work in progress, as the province has not provided the enacting regulations yet. Local governments have been told that more details on implementation of the legislation along with instructions and guidelines are coming over the next few months. So the thoughts below are preliminary, and I reserve the right to be corrected in point of fact or event point of intention as this new landscape evolves.

I will go through by headline legislation, dealing with one piece of legislation in each of three separate blog posts. At the same time, recognize that these are overlapping measures in how they will be applied by Local Governments. They aren’t as separable as described here, and need to be viewed holistically. So with that in mind, the first blog post is:

Bill 44 : Multiplexes and more!
There are several components to Bill 44, but the short notes are that it brings to an end the most restrictive form of residential zoning – single Single Family Detached zoning – and requires local government to permit 3, 4, or 6 units per lot. It also takes away the local government’s ability to require off-street parking for these developments when they are near frequent transit. This bill also requires Local Governments to complete standardized Housing Needs Reports, to update their OCP and Zoning Bylaw by the end of 2025 to accommodate the need outlined in that HNR, and prohibits Public Hearings on residential development aligned with the Official Community Plan.

I’ll start by saying all of these are (in my opinion)  good ideas. Much of this reflects good planning principles. We should be structuring our OCPs around a defensible analysis of housing need, and the OCP should be the part of the community planning process where the bulk of community consultation and input should occur, not the Public Hearing. The question put to the community can then be “how do we want to accommodate the need?” not “How do we feel about growth?”, because the latter has more often than not resulted decisions that don’t address the realistic needs of the community or region, and therefore a Plan that falls short in addressing a crisis. It is also clear that the era has ended where single family living on a 5,000+ square foot lot in the middle of a dense urban core is attainable for most people, or sustainable in the cost to service those lots.

Then come the details.

For New Westminster, this is mostly going to mean 4 units will be permitted as right without rezoning on every current “single family” lot. I use that term in quotes because most lots in New West already permit three units – a main house with a basement suite and a laneway/carriage house – although there are a variety of restrictions on overall size of the combined units and each component. We use the Development Permit process to manage the size, shape, and scale of laneway/carriage houses, based on guidelines developed through a lengthy process involving a lot of public consultation. We also permit (through Rezoning, Heritage Restoration Agreement or Development Variance Permits) some variance on these guidelines on a lot-by-lot basis.

Remember, the end of “Single Family Zoning” does not mean the end of Single Family homes. You will not be forced to build a fourplex if you would rather build a house, and you will not be forced to knock your house down to build a fourplex. These changes increase the variety of housing types that can be built, they don’t take options away.

So the switch from 3-units to 4-units might not seem that big, but the work to develop new replacement guidelines on what can be built is actually a significant piece of work. Everything from set-backs (how close to a property line you are allowed to build), maximum heights, FSR (Floor Space Ratio – how many square feet of living space you are allowed to build relative to your lot size), maximum lot coverage (we currently only let you cover half a lot with a building or impermeable surface – change that and you need to change how our storm drainage network operates) will need to be worked out through guidelines. There are engineering and utility considerations to all of this, and more important details than you might think. We may need to set standards around how driveways cross sidewalks (we don’t want driveways every 33 feet on major roads or greenways), how solid waste receptacles will be stored and picked up by the City, and how we will address our Tree Protection Bylaw, etc.

All this to say, there is a lot of work to do to build these guidelines, and it matters a lot to how the City functions if we don’t get them right. This is also work that impacts not just our Planning staff, but folks in Engineering and Parks and Open Spaces. Our overall desire to have public consultation around the shape of guidelines that impact every neighbourhood is another timeline challenge. As currently proposed, we need to do all of this by June, 2024 – 6 months after the regulations that point us here are released in December. That is an incredibly tight timeline, and I fully anticipate we will not able to make it.

New Westminster is still a smallish city, and our planning department is a small team. We don’t want to move people off of new development approvals, affordable building projects, and major projects like the 22nd Street Visioning process to do this work, because those projects could bring hundreds of new units on line every year, while four- and six-plexes may bring on dozens a year in the most optimistic model. The long-term benefits are huge, I worry about the short-term capacity issue.

The deadline for a Housing Needs Report is December, 2024, and I am more confident we can get this done, as it would build on one we recently completed. We have yet to see what the Province’s “Standard” HNR looks like, but there is already a grounding for this work. One potential challenge here is that we, like many medium-sized cities, relied on a consultant to help with some specialized components of this work, and those consultants may be harder to hire (and more costly) when there are 100 municipalities on BC all clamoring for the same work on the same deadline. I’m not sure there are enough people in the province trained to do this work. I would hope the Province would look to the “Naughty List” of cities to be prioritized here, and may relax the deadline for cities like New West who have already been meeting their needs targets if there is a capacity crunch next year. We shall see.

Once we have the HNR in hand, we will need to update the three OCPs in the City (Yes, we have three – the main one, and separate ones for Queensborough and the Downtown) by December 2025 so the OCPs reflect a plan to meet those identified needs. This is a relatively straight-forward process, and should be doable, though again the public consultation part will be the critical path. Last time the City completed an OCP re-write, it took us two years because we really invited the public in for a conversation about the future of the City. I don’t see a reason to do less his time around, especially as how the OCP is going to inform the shape of zoning more now than before, with so much pre-zoning of higher density areas. We will not have two years to do this, so it will be an intense period of public engagement. And intense means staff resources and stressed out community wishing to engage.

The impact this will have on current OCP-related projects like the 22nd Street Visioning, Master planning the Lower 12th Street area, or Sapperton Green is unclear at this time. There is a similar concern here as with the HNR about province-wide resources available to do this work. Significant OCP re-writes often require consultant support for economic modelling, public consultation, utility planning, and such. If 100s of Municipalities in BC are doing this all at once, it might be a very good time to be graduating from planning school.

Coming next – Bills 46 and 47…with maps!

Lower Mainland LGA 2023 (pt 1)

This week the Lower Mainland Local Government Association held their annual conference in Harrison. The Lower Mainland LGA is the collective of the elected local government officials of Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, and the Sea-to-Sky, and includes 29 of the 30 municipalities from Hope to Pemberton as members. (bonus guess on who is missing?). All of New Westminster Council attended, and as is my wont, I like to write an (admittedly-biased) review of what happened. This will be a series of blog posts, as there are three main components of the event, but I’ll start with the one that is freshest in my mind, the speeches, and come back to resolutions and sessions in follow-up posts.

Every LMLGA has speeches, political ones from each of the three main provincial parties (mush of our resolution work and discussion at the event is about advocacy to the provincial government) and a keynote.

The Keynote in 2023 was from Naheed Nenshi, the recently-more-relaxed former Mayor of Calgary. He spoke about the times and the current challenges of Local Government, and of governance of all forms during the “long emergency” we are experiencing. He spoke of the overlap of 5 crises: The ongoing Pandemic (“It’s not over folks!”); Mental Health and Addictions (Sorry, folks the Alberta Model is not a panacea); Racism and Decolonization (this has been going on for generations, but the need to reckon with it is now and present in all of our discourse); Climate (yeah, he kinds breezed over this, as a guy used to speaking to the Calgary business crowd tends to); and unprecedented inequity (economic inequity is higher now than it was during the Industrial Revolution, than it was during the days of Carnegie and Rockefeller).

He also spoke about his affinity for Purple – not a primary colour, neither red nor blue, but both. He had tried himself to be as non-partisan as possible and found success in speaking to issues, not ideologies. It was interesting to hear him talk about that line, as a Mayor of a fairly progressive local government floating in a sea of conservatism, and after him speaking of the issues above through a lens that most would recognize as a progressive one. But his message of service to the community, of love for your community, should be universal for those called to public service.

His message directed at the crowd at Lower Mainland LGA (elected people recently put in office with three and a half years of work ahead of them) was simple. Forget about the campaign and instead do your work. If you are always talking about the last election or the next one, you are not making good decisions, because you are putting the service of yourself in front of service for the community. Now is the time to Do Your Work, and 6 months before the next election, you can point back at that work, and the voters will decide whether that was enough.


The Leader of BC United, Kevin Falcon, gave a campaign speech that was at times confusing. Much like his speech at the UBCM Housing Summit a few weeks ago (where he told a room of bureaucrats that the last thing the housing crisis needed was more bureaucrats), he perhaps missed his audience here by framing the first half of his speech around the inability of government to do anything useful, while he was talking to a room of people recently elected to do things. There was also a lack of internal consistency in his comments. He spent much of the time saying “government can’t build housing”, and lamenting how ideas to build more housing are hampered by BC Hydro’s ability to supply power, by the need to expand sewers and water and roads. Then he switched to his strategy which was to “Flood the Zone” with new housing, while making no reference to the problem with that approach he just talked about. So, a campaign speech.

The speech was also notable in his unique discretion in only saying “Catch and Release” a single time. And once again, he made it clear to everyone he *Really Loves* the current members of Vancouver city council, and *really hated* the old ones. It is unclear how he stands on the majority of Vancouver councilors who were both on the old council and the new one. Maybe I’m missing some nuance here.


Sonia Furstenau of the BC Greens gave a Sonia speech, in that her approach to these events is so notably different than most politicians. She clearly riffs off of her notes, sometimes far off, but speaks about what she is hearing and feeling in a human way. She is also talented at finding parallels with the points made by others (you should never want to go before Sonia on the agenda if you have the option) and reframing them in creative ways. Example: like Falcon, she wants to “focus on outcomes” – but she is more directed in asking what those outcomes are, and who they serve? At each point, she talks at a deeper level, and challenges us to do the same.

There is a luxury in being the Third Party, but Sonia uses that privilege effectively. She is able to get meta (as the kids say), look at the debates we are having and raise the question “why”? If our processes and debates don’t let us agree on the starting point, don’t let us work from the same data, how will we ever agree on the path to better outcomes? A good example is in how she talks about question Period in the Legislature, when the two parties (for the most part) yell at each other hoping for media quotes. She asks – how does this serve anyone? What would question Period look like if we centred the people being served? If we talked about policy outcomes and took that service seriously? Dare to dream.


The NDP were represented by “our” Minister, Anne Kang of Municipal Affairs (though Minister Bowinn Ma was also on a panel on Friday). She opened in referring to herself as the “Minister of Friendship” – and her first goal being to get to know and meet with the local government leaders around the region. This is a big task with ~180 Local Governments, but Minister Kang has been working hard to make those connections. Spending time as a City Councillor herself, she was able to relate to the folks in the crowd, and received more applause than perhaps the other folks giving Friday speeches on Friday – the benefit of being able to talk about the $1billion Growing Communities Fund and other funding the Province has sent to local governments (Library funding perhaps the most popular in this crowd – note to all current and future Ministers of Municipal Affairs).

She had a few great lines (“Alberta may be calling, but only because this is the place people actually want to live”) but her speech (to my taste) leaned a bit too much on the speaking notes, and not enough on her personal experience in local government and her personal learnings from her first few months on the job. She is new to the role, and has room to grow in it, but the best part was her clear willingness to make the connections that Local Government needs in Victoria.


This points a bit to the overall tone of the room during these speeches, and over the three days. When I was first attending these Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM events 8ish years ago, relations between the Provincial Government and Local Governments were strained. There are, of course, local elected people across the political spectrum, but 8 years ago the lefties and the righties seemed fairly aligned on the idea that the province was doing local governments few favours. This shifted when the NDP got elected. Minister Robinson was “one of us” (a Local Mainland LGA Executive member!) and a bridge builder, as was Minister Osborne. The provincial government was present again at Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM events, and were actively engaging local government. Most of the lefties and the righties agreed this was a breath of fresh air, and received this support warmly, even if some begrudgenly did so.

After a few years of not meeting like this, and with the NDP now owning a long enough legacy of successes and failures, It was clear the room was more divided along partisan divisions than I ever remember feeling before. Perhaps this is “regression to the mean” after a decade of anomalous swings, maybe it is the room half full of new folks trying to find their place and their voice. But I’m afraid the message of Mayor Nenshi may have fallen on ears less purple than we might hope.

Mayor’s Council, Jan 2023

Another busy week, this one featured a TransLink Mayor’s Council meeting, our third meeting of the term, but the first in-person meeting since inauguration. There was some good discussion, I thought I would share a bit. The first part of the meeting was a discussion of ridership returns, and how TransLink has adjusted the system through the slow recovery from COVID. There is good and news just OK news, but lots of reasons to be optimistic.

The just OK news is the headline that ridership is back up to 194 Million Annual journeys, which is about 82% of the pre-COVID peak, with bus journeys leading the comeback and West Coast Express lagging behind.

Source of all of these graphs is the Translink Mayor’s Council report here.

The good news is buried in the details. This recovery rate is by far the leader in North America, though we lag a bit behind most European systems. TransLink ridership in raw numbers is 5th highest of any metro region in North America, though we are the 24th largest service area by population. We have 60% more ridings than Seattle and Portland (our nearest cohorts in weather, demography, and size) combined. Metro Vancouver has more daily transit riders than the City of Chicago, which has three times our population.

Here in new west, our ridership recovery lags a bit behind the average at 77%, but we are still, at 28,000 journeys a day, one of the most transit-oriented neighbourhoods in the region.

A more interesting way to look at ridership is to put it in the context of the rapid ridership growth of the last decade. We are, essentially, back at 2014 ridership levels. In a sense, the current ridership levels harken back to the brief period post-olympics before we entered into that period of unsustainable crowding in the system. We are just starting to get to the point where crowding is starting to appear on some routes, tempered a bit by the noticeable change in travel patterns. Though we still have morning and afternoon “rush”, there is a lot more travel on weekends and offpeak times – reflecting reduced return-to-office ridership, and more service and recreational ridership.

One interesting aspect of this is the impact on monthly passes. Totally anecdotally (and indulging in my own bit of elite projection here) I hung up my compass wristband (which I used as a monthly pass) when COVID happened, and shifted to loading my compass card up and paying per ride. Clearly I was not alone here. This feeds into the discussion of revenue drivers for Translink, as farebox recovery has not been as fast as ridership recovery.

Which brings us to the financial situation. But I digress.

We then talked about the Ten Year Priorities for regional transportation. There has been much written about it, but this meeting Staff are seeking the Council’s endorsement of the plan which leans heavily on Rapid Bus (think 99 B-Lines in more locations) and BRT (which is something else entirely – but we will get deeper into that). They received it and endorsed it, unanimously, which is no mean feat around the Mayor’s Council table. We call come from different political backgrounds, 21 communities with different needs and priorities, but on this we speak as a united voice.

Two points of discussion raised in this plan, first related to the funding, second to the very idea of BRT.

This plan is not funded. It is natural that we need a unified and clear plan before we can seek the funding to achieve it, but endorsing the plan is not the end of the journey, only a rest point. We have work at the Federal and Provincial level, and in our own backyards, to secure a clear and predictable funding model to make this plan come to life. I am confident we will do it, as this plan is fundamental not just to the transportation plans of the region, but to the transportation, livability, affordability, and climate plans of the Province and the Country. As PoCo Mayor and Mayors Council Chair Brad West put forward at the meeting, this plan is not a “nice to have”, it is as necessary to the functioning of our region as our water, sewer, and electrical utilities. And we need to remember that as we work through the details of a funding plan.

The other conversation we need to have is about Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”). This is a form of rapid and reliable transit that is common in many jurisdictions, but pretty new in North America. It offers a functionality somewhere above a streetcar or B-line, not quite to the level of full grade-separated light rail, but in a sweet spot that fits our region very well, provides a lot of flexibility, and saves us a tonne of money over elevated rail.

The trade-off is that BRT can take space away from other traffic. Though way less intrusive than an elevated rail line, it still means either re-allocation of existing road space, or creation of new dedicated road space. It has the potential to be one of those new infrastructure directions that everyone wants near them, but not too near. It will be more apparent to drivers than a tunnel or overhead light rail line. There also needs to be careful interface planning between BRT routes and other road users, such as pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, and even areas where we want to see traffic calmed, like pedestrian-oriented commercial areas.

So we have some work to do, to educate the public about BRT, and to educate senior government about our need for consistent and reliable funding. The good news is that the plan is solid, and solidly supported by the leadership of the region.