City's Housing Choices Program terminated

The province’s changes to zoning rules have “a huge impact” on the plan to fill in the housing gaps in Burnaby neighbourhoods

Burnaby has effectively terminated its Housing Choices Program due to the recently adopted provincial zoning legislation that aims to increase densities in residential neighbourhoods. The Housing Choices Program was intended to change local neighbourhoods by encouraging so-called "small-scale housing" developments like row houses and triplexes, creating more places for people to live and gradually increasing density. But the new legislation, which mandates minimum housing requirements in transit-oriented areas, especially small-scale multi-unit housing (SSMUH), means the city must overhaul its program to meet the new provincial requirements. 

Diagram of Burnaby’s original Housing Choices Program phases. Photo: City of Burnaby

At council’s Planning and Development Committee’s first meeting of 2024, general manager of planning and development Ed Kozak said, “This is a reaction to the provincial legislation, and in a sense, we’re terminating the Housing Choices Program as was originally conceived. We’re bringing forward what we learned in our latest consultation, and sort of wrapping the program up given that it’s going to be sort of either discontinued for parts of it or reworked into the official community plan.” 

The new zoning laws require the city to allow multiple units on any properties zoned for single or two-family housing, the number of units changing depending on the size of the lot and how close it is to transit. Smaller lots have to allow three units, for example, while a larger lot near bus stops with frequent service must allow at least six units. 

The province also introduced Bill 47, which requires higher density in transit-oriented areas, including residential properties within 800m of a SkyTrain station and 400m of a bus exchange. The new legislation will lead to a more rapid densification of residential areas, and the report said this would effectively cancel the existing Housing Choices program and its original timeline as Burnaby works to adjust to the new legislation by the province’s June 30, 2024 deadline. 

The new legislation will also necessitate changing the Burnaby 2050 Official Community Plan (OCP). Last November, Mayor Mike Hurley told the Beacon that the city must adjust the OCP to meet the province’s new requirements. 

According to Kozak, City of Burnaby staff want to start implementing the changes conservatively to determine the effects of the new legislation on service requirements and infrastructure. “We’re feverishly working right now on multiple fronts both with the OCP and looking at development cost charges and amenity cost charges based on service levels the mayor previously noted in meetings. So this has a huge impact on how we deliver services within the city,” Kozak said.    

According to the report, the city will communicate the new legislative changes to the public in the 2024 Utility Tax brochure and on the city’s website, among other avenues.

“I think we need to get this out to the public soon because some of them are still calling me and asking about what’s happening with phase two. Is it possible to have a communication that says that now we’re going to concentrate on SSMUs, therefore no point in waiting for an application,” Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said. He added that informing the public about the city’s timeline for implementing the zoning changes is essential.