Westward Independent recently had the privilege of attending the North Cowichan Developers’ Forum, a pivotal event held at Fuller Lake.
This forum casts a spotlight on some pressing issues within the Canadian housing sector, offering insights into the challenges faced by builders and developers. Despite being a sold-out event, it was notable that there were fewer than 18 non-staff attendees, underscoring the importance of addressing these housing-related concerns.
The featured speaker, hired by North Cowichan, delivered invaluable insights into housing issues and their connection to the role municipalities play in the current crisis affecting builders. While certain factors, such as BC assessment and inflation, are beyond the control of local councils, three critical problems originating from North Cowichan were prominently highlighted:
1. Prolonged Building Permit Approval Times: One of the most glaring issues is the excessively long waiting periods local builders face, sometimes enduring delays as extensive as eight years for their building permits to be accepted. These prolonged delays result in tied-up borrowed funds and escalating interest costs, all due to the ever-changing red tape and bureaucratic hurdles.
2. Incompatibility of North Cowichan’s Official Community Plan (OCP) and Climate Initiatives with Housing: Another significant concern is the perceived incompatibility of North Cowichan’s OCP and climate initiatives with effectively addressing the housing crisis. Buildings are frequently rejected for not meeting criteria, such as proximity to growth centers or housing unit expansion beyond growth boundaries.
3. Parking Regulations: Stringent parking regulations and building permit restrictions within North Cowichan were also identified as significant barriers for developers and builders.
In discussions with local developers, it became evident that the costs associated with building materials have doubled since 2019. Additionally, other fees, such as connecting buildings to B.C. Hydro, has increased. This financial strain has led to a reluctance among some builders to engage in construction within North Cowichan. Furthermore, the construction of single-family homes is discouraged due to high building costs and the substantial down payments required, further exacerbated by soaring interest rates. To compound matters, one builder mentioned over 300 permits on hold following the imposition of Growth Containment Boundaries in the OCP.
The North Cowichan Developers’ Forum served as an important platform to discuss the critical issues plaguing the local housing sector. To create a more conducive environment for builders and effectively address the housing crisis, it is imperative for North Cowichan to streamline building permit processes, reconcile the OCP with the pressing housing needs, and reassess parking regulations. Tackling these challenges is vital for promoting growth and housing affordability in the region.
However, it appears that The Province is poised to override local municipalities. The Provincial Government recently introduced Bill-44, the Housing Statutes (Residential Development) Amendment Act.
The government’s stance on the matter echoes an argument put forth by David Eby during his tenure as Housing Minister (2020-2022) and now as the Premier. The bill essentially seeks to address the complications arising from rezoning and excessive regulations. Once enacted by the NDP majority in the B.C. legislature, it will grant the provincial government the authority to override municipal zoning decisions across much of B.C.
This development has raised concerns within the community. The “solution” presented appears to focus on building high-density homes, emphasizing the need to promote “Growth Centres” or “walkable communities” at the potential expense of single-family home living. This shift could drastically alter the look and feel of the once-beloved family neighbourhoods. With developers eyeing opportunities to replace existing single-family homes with duplexes or fourplexes, the character of these communities may undergo significant transformation. All of this stems from a change in perspective on what were once referred to as suburbs, now labelled “urban sprawl,” and the characterization of single-family dwellings as environmental polluters.
The move toward high-density housing has also raised concerns about its potential impact on mental health. Numerous studies have explored the decline in mental well-being associated with high-density living. Many individuals and families moved to these neighbourhoods for their quaint, suburban lifestyle, and it is feared that this shift towards densification might disrupt the lifestyle they cherish.
In light of these developments, North Cowichan’s focus on directing all building activities into small centres, combined with the provincial government’s intent to increase densification efforts, is likely to reshape the overall atmosphere of North Cowichan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District. The changes are already visible in neighbouring areas like Duncan.
The housing landscape in North Cowichan is at a crossroads. While the challenges and controversies are significant, the community’s response and the decisions made in the coming months will shape the future of housing in this picturesque region of Canada. Balancing the need for housing affordability with the preservation of cherished neighbourhood aesthetics will be a complex and crucial task for all stakeholders involved.