Housing Approvals Delayed in Vancouver

Expect-Delays-sign(1)The Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association has collaborated with the Urban Development Institute to do a housing research project called Getting to Groundbreaking (G2G). The report published last month indicates that by 2041, the Metro Vancouver area will need 500,000 new homes to accommodate the more than 36,000 new residents that arrive each year. Of this development, 75% will have to take place as infill development due to land constraints. One finding on the report indicates that across the board, homebuilders from all municipalities agree that they are up against the challenge of an inefficient approval process.

The report found that at least one-third of the homebuilders that were surveyed reported that they choose to work in different municipalities, delay projects, or change the type of housing they are building due to the approval process and the high fees and charges associated with their building submissions. This lengthy residential approval process creates a domino effect, with negative impacts on both homebuilders and homebuyers.

When the report surveyed the municipalities, there was general agreement that the approval process if difficult and lengthy. Various factors contribute to this, everything from strict regulations to aspects of the job not being reviewed concurrently. Applications have to go through various channels for approval, everything from rezoning to development permit, subdivision, and serving agreements, building permits and final occupancy approval. By applicant report estimates, a residential application took more than 90 weeks in the process in Vancouver. Maple Ridge, Langley, and Coquitlam came in close behind. Almost all the municipalities took at least 52 weeks, with the lowest at 47 weeks.

According to the municipalities, the applicant estimates were lower –with a range from 39 to 72 weeks. Only Delta, Surrey and the District of North Vancouver indicated that the timing of applications was reported the same by applicants and municipalities. Regardless of the length of time, the carrying costs are high and accumulate every week for landowners as the application is reviewed. This results in negative financial impacts to a builder – everything from lower profit margins to a complete change in the type of housing that they build.

Over time, these delays will start to impact the price of homes on the market, the price of land when available, and the total number of available homes.

So, what are the factors delaying the application? Municipalities report everything from being understaffed to a difference in design philosophy. Circulation time internally also appears to slow down the process, as does public forum for comments on the proposed project. Applicants agree with all of these above factors, as well as an indication that the application often needs significant changes in order to meet the satisfying conditions.

Strategies are beginning to emerge in some municipalities to improve communication regarding the application process and to streamline the way applications are submitted and handled internally. Additionally, both applicant and the municipality generally prefer a pre-application meeting, to speed up the process. Time will tell whether or not these tactics are implemented, thus decreasing the number of delays in housing applications.

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