New Zoning Changes in B.C. to Address Housing Affordability Issues

B.C. has had a number of legislative changes affect housing. The most recent change, however, could potentially come at a cost.

By Brett Surbey | 4 minute read

Feb 12

New legislation from the B.C. government plans to introduce more small-scale, multi-unit homes to increase housing options for residents.

In 2023, the British Columbian government implemented a number of legislative changes or proposed changes, ranging from adjustments to secondary suites to cracking down on short-term rentals, and most recently, tackling the housing affordability crisis. 


Last November, the B.C. government announced legislative changes targeting “outdated zoning rules” with the purpose of “building homes faster” and introducing housing options within the reach of B.C. residents.


The government plans to introduce more affordable housing by forcing municipalities to change their zoning rules to accommodate additional multi-unit housing options — such as multiplexes, laneway houses, and townhomes. 


According to preliminary research, the news release stated that changes could result in “more than 130,000 new small-scale multi-unit homes in B.C. during the next 10 years.” 

“If you can eliminate three public hearings for every single piece of construction that’s done in the whole city, you will expedite the process quickly.”

“Constructing mostly high-rise condo towers or single-family homes means B.C. isn’t building enough small-scale multi-unit homes that fit into existing neighbourhoods and give people more housing options that are within reach. That’s why we’re taking action to fix zoning problems and deliver more homes for people, faster,” said Premier David Eby in the release.


Steve Karrash, a realtor with Macdonald Realty in Surrey, B.C.,  and co-host of the real estate podcast The Tom Storey Show, sums up the changes to zoning regulations like this: “Theoretically, in the province, anywhere where you have a single family zoned property in any jurisdiction, [these changes] immediately takes them to a three or fourplex.” 


According to the new regulations, the exact type of property allowed will be dependent on the size of the municipality — those with a population of over 5,000 will have three to four units in select areas. 


Karrasch also pointed out that these changes are implemented regardless of a municipality’s bylaws or other restrictions. “What we’re seeing is there are many zonings, there are many bylaws and there are even covenants registered on titles of properties that restrict any secondary suites, let alone third or fourth units. So effectively, I believe the government is trying to eradicate all of those restrictions across the entire province,” Karrasch tells Wahi.


The impact on the rental market and single-family locations  

Homeowners and those looking to buy single-family homes shouldn’t be worried right now, Karrasch says, but they should look to the rental market bracing for change. 


The release from the government makes a nod toward the changes that were brought about in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2016. These legislative adjustments created over 20,000 homes over a five-year period the B.C. government notes. 


Karrasch thinks that B.C.’s changes will likely have a similar effect to what happened to Auckland’s rental market. “Auckland] found that the effect that it actually had was it stopped rents from going up because you had so many applications to build these four plexes and apartment buildings and townhomes.” 


“You were effectively able to bring enough inventory to the market. It didn’t really affect the sales, but it definitely brought more rental inventory to the market,” he adds    


When asked about whether single-family homes would be phased out in the coming decade, Karrasch noted that they could become more of a luxury as the government uses single-family zoned lots for these new developments — or tears down old family homes. 


“So, if indeed you don’t want to share walls, you’re gonna have to pay for that luxury,” he says.


Less red tape means more houses 

Arguably the biggest change to hit paper this time was the reduction of public consultation when new developments are being proposed. Under the current regulations, Karrasch indicates that if a single-family property was to be re-zoned to accommodate additional housing, it could require multiple public hearings. 


Now the government is planning to “phase out one-off public hearings for rezonings for housing projects that are consistent and aligned with the official community plans,” according to their release. Rather than have cumbersome meetings, the NDP plans to give the public “more frequent opportunities…to be involved in shaping their communities earlier in the process when official community plans are updated.”


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Karrasch thinks that this change is a good one, and one that will increase the speed of the rezoning process altogether.  “If you can eliminate three public hearings for every single piece of construction that’s done in the whole city, you will expedite the process quickly, which I think is good,” he says.

Big changes with a bigger implementation period 

For homeowners or buyers who are concerned about single-family locations in well-populated areas like Surrey or Vancouver, Karrasch has some good news: he doesn’t think these changes will be coming down the pipe for a while. “I don’t see this actually coming into effect for at least another year,” he says. 


Auckland’s upzoning reforms were announced in 2013, but didn’t come into effect until 2016.

With a potential timeline of at least a year or so, B.C. homeowners and buyers can take solace in the fact that they have time to prepare for this transition.


Brett Surbey

Wahi Writer

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