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Coquitlam tosses BC Builds over housing legislation uncertainty

“If you’re not going to have BC Builds in Coquitlam, that’s totally OK,” executive lead Lisa Helps told the city's council in committee today, April 15, 2024.
Construction worker. | File photo

Coquitlam politicians gave a frosty reception to the former mayor of Victoria, saying the housing accelerator plan she’s championing currently isn’t a good fit as the city grapples with new provincial legislation around home building.

Today, April 15, Lisa Helps, the executive lead of BC Builds, spoke via video about the new provincial initiative through BC Housing that’s designed to get more housing up for middle-income people, using $2 billion in federal cash.

Its Homes for People program, which was launched this year, aims to provide a number of tools for local governments and nonprofits to build housing such as:

  • using public land
  • offering forgivable loans for homeowners to build and rent secondary suites
  • building affordable homes for renters, Indigenous people, women and children fleeing violence, and post-secondary students

The inaugural program intends to bring down homebuilding costs, she said, by working with local governments, as well as partnering with groups with land.

Helps said developers will see their housing projects up in 12 to 18 months.

But council largely dismissed BC Builds, saying while it may be suitable for nonprofits and faith-based organizations, municipalities no longer have the resources available — nor the willingness to turn over taxpayer-owned land — given the volume of housing changes that municipal staff now face.

“We are challenged by this enormity of the environment change associated with housing that the province has imposed on municipalities with no consultation,” Mayor Richard Stewart told Helps after her online presentation.

“Now we’re reeling with a completely overwhelming amount of change.”

“If you’re not going to have BC Builds in Coquitlam, that’s totally OK,” Helps later retorted, asking council to see the associated “taxpayer cost” of the land instead as a “taxpayer benefit” and to leverage senior government cash.

“We’re not here to push a program; it’s just an invitation,” she added, noting BC Builds plans between 8,000 and 10,000 homes in the next five years.

Legislation chaos

After Helps’ delegation, the council in committee continued to lean into the province about its legislative changes to address the housing crisis in B.C.

Coun. Brent Asmundson said Coquitlam was recognized as a leader in building residential units to meet regional housing targets, and won awards.

Now, staff are too busy trying to figure out how the “one-size-fits-all” provincial policies will have financial and procedural implications for city hall.

Last month, the provincial government offered some relief, saying municipalities can use density bonuses — a developer-funded tool to pay for capital projects like the Northeast Community Centre — until mid-2025.

But, after that, local governments will have to redesign their programs to incorporate the new minimum densities and use amenity cost charges (ACC).

On Monday, the committee unanimously voted for civic staff to restart advancing development bids within Transit Oriented Areas (TOA) that involve density bonuses, to council for consideration; it also resumed consideration of disbursements from the city’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund (AHRF).

Andrew Merrill, Coquitlam’s general manager of planning and development, told the committee that the roll-out of the new provincial rules are causing uncertainty, with many developers slowing or pausing their applications.

The result of the legislation means less housing is happening, Stewart said.

And not much is happening around the council table, too, as civic staff are challenged by the lack of information, city manager Raul Allueva said.

“As far as I know, another Act can drop next week. I don’t know. They don’t talk to us,” Allueva said, while voicing frustrations with the housing ministry.

Merrill said planning staff will have a better idea this fall on the civic details; meanwhile, despite the unknowns, the city will still ink deals where it is able.

Coun. Matt Djonlic pressed for early city messaging to communicate with residents about the upcoming shift from developer-funded to taxpayer-funded amenities, and how the future legislation may hike property taxes.