Fraser Forum

It takes three times longer to obtain building permits in Vancouver than in Burnaby

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The Fraser Institute’s latest study spotlights the difficulties homebuilders face at city halls across B.C.’s Lower Mainland. The study findings reinforce a recurring theme from almost three years of tracking this issue—there are huge differences between municipal governments and their friendliness towards homebuilding.

According to the study, it takes three times longer, on average, to obtain building permits in Vancouver than in neighbouring Burnaby. It costs $15,000 more per unit to comply with local land-use regulations in Surrey than in Langley Township, even though both are geographically large municipalities with growing populations.

These differences are important. The more time-consuming, costly and unpredictable it is to obtain a building permit, the harder it will be for homebuilders to respond to strong demand for new homes. Fewer new listings with a growing pool of potential buyers can only mean one thing—home prices go up.

So what can be done to boost supply and temper prices in the Lower Mainland?

One potential solution lies in the problem itself. Strong variations in approval timelines, costs and fees, rezoning and local attitudes towards new homes mean that there are both good and bad practices across cities. Municipalities already collaborate on a number of fronts, including transit, roads and regional growth strategies. Why not also share best practices for building permit approvals?

Of course it’s difficult for Vancouver, which is built to its boundaries, to emulate the success of housing-friendly municipalities on the urban fringe such as Pitt Meadows. Most new homes in Vancouver require rezoning, typically adding 10 months to the approval process (only a quarter of new builds in Pitt Meadows need this change). Nevertheless, denser, more urban municipalities including Richmond and Burnaby have minimized the impact of rezoning.

Generally, city staff implement whatever methods or approaches lead to these differences in approval wait times and costs. By sharing local knowledge more broadly, less-housing friendly municipalities can adopt and develop best practices tailored to their needs.

Information sharing is an easy first step towards a more housing-friendly Lower Mainland, especially when the cost of inaction is so high.


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