This past fall, the Province of British Columbia introduced a flurry of new legislation focused on housing and development. Those include Bill 35, the Short-Term Rental Accommodation Act; Bill 44, the Housing Statutes (Residential Development) Amendment Act regarding small-scale multi-unit housing (SSMUH); and Bill 47, the Housing Statutes (Transit-Oriented Areas) Amendment Act, among several others.

Much of the concern among pundits is whether local governments can handle dealing with all these changes all at once. On this, Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon has said, in a previous interview with STOREYS, that introducing all the new pieces of legislation around the same time was intentional, because the Province "wanted to show the public how they all work together."

After the various announcements were made, the Province then released policy manuals in early-December, and although there is still some policy guidance that has yet to be provided, the ball is now very much in the court of local governments, who now have to implement all of the new changes in advance of the various deadlines the Province has set.

Across several interviews with STOREYS, members of the planning teams at the City of Vancouver, City of Surrey, and City of Kelowna discussed how much advance notice they had about the legislation, how they are handling all the work, which bill required the most amount of work, and how well they're progressing towards meeting those deadlines.


Not every municipal government learned of the impending legislations on the same day. Some were not made aware of the new legislation until days before the Province announced it publicly, while others were involved in consultations with the Province and therefore knew of them well in advance.

"The actual engagement on the legislation started in early-2023," says Issues Manager Templar Tsang-Trinaistich, referring to the aforementioned Bill 44 and Bill 47, as well as Bill 46, the Housing Statutes (Development Financing) Amendment Act regarding Amenity Cost Charges (ACCs). "They reached out to [some municipalities] to participate and Vancouver was one of the municipalities they looked to engage with, especially because of the Vancouver Charter compared to other government areas. We were mostly under NDAs to be able to work with them on it."

Additionally, the Province also engaged the City of Vancouver early regarding Bill 43, the Housing Supply Act regarding housing targets.

"We were engaged with them over the last year on the development and methodologies for how to set housing targets," adds Dan Garrison, Director, Housing Policy & Regulation.

Regarding the deadlines the Province has set and whether municipal governments have been given a fair amount of time, Tsang-Trinaistich, who says the theme of his work lately has been "everything everywhere all at once," says he is currently working on a report on the subject that's set to be presented to Council in April, but he says implementing some of it is going to be easier than others and that it's been like "drinking from the firehose."

"We are still unpacking much of it," he says. "We've got policy manuals and regulations for some of it. For example, under Bill 44, we have manuals and regs for that, and we've got manuals and regulations for Bill 47, but we don't have manuals and regulations for Bill 46, nor the housing needs report under Bill 44."

He adds that City staff — of which about 20 to 30 are involved in the implementation work — are doing as much as they can, but because of how interconnected the various bills are, they need to have a clear understanding of everything in order to properly implement everything. The remaining policy manuals and regulations are expected to be made public in the next week or so, he notes.

Worth mentioning is the fact that much of this work is happening without a permanent Director of Planning, after the City and Theresa O'Donnell abruptly parted ways in September. Doug Smith continues to serve as the acting General Manager while Matt Shillito is serving as the Interim Director of Planning, who are both "keeping the machine moving," Garrison says.

Because of the sheer amount of changes and the concurrent timelines of implementing them, how that work will affect work that was previously underway is also worth keeping an eye on. In some municipalities, the new changes will be easy to implement because it aligns with work that was already underway, while in others, the new changes may conflict with work that had commenced previously.

In the City of Vancouver, Tsang-Trinaistich says they've had to "pivot" resources, with some of the team that was working on the missing middle housing work now moving to focus more on the small-scale multi-unit housing work. "There's been some pivoting and adjusting, but I wouldn't say conflicts," he says.

"Generally speaking, the City is supportive of the provincial approach to this legislation," adds Garrison. "The timelines are tight, the timelines are aggressive, but we intend to do our best to comply with them. It's going to be an interesting couple of years in the planning and development world. We don't mind working hard when it's heading in the right direction. I've personally been working on the housing challenges in Vancouver and BC for over 20 years now, and we're at the point where this is the most aligned I've seen the levels of government, in terms of trying to take the issue seriously and meaningful respond to it. I'm hopeful this is going to make a difference moving forward."


For the City of Surrey, some members of the planning team were involved in consultations on some of the provincial legislations as early as Summer 2023, but they didn't really get a full sense of the legislation until it was made public, General Manager of Planning & Development Don Luymes, tells STOREYS.

"I think we were aware that, for instance, there would be legislation that talked about three or four units per lot, but we didn't know the details about it," says Luymes. "In the consultation sessions, to be honest, a lot of local governments were pointing out some details and issues that we felt needed to be well resolved before the legislation dropped, and I think most local governments [now] feel like those concerns were not fully addressed, and I think you're seeing it now."

An exterior photo of Surrey City Hall.Surrey City Hall. (City of Surrey)

Some of those concerns, Luymes says, are issues such as parking requirements as it relates to the SSMUH regulations, or concerns regarding infrastructure capacity.

"It's not insurmountable," he notes. "I think, in general, most cities, including Surrey, are supportive of seeing more housing choices. It's just that the details of how it will be rolled out hadn't been fully thought through before the legislation dropped. The legislation dropped, then there were the policy manuals that followed a month or so later. That's been helpful, but there's still an awful lot of details to be worked out by local governments, and that process creates uncertainty for homeowners or anybody that's interested in taking advantage of the new rules."

Luymes also believes that the deadlines the Province has set are "tight."

"For instance, in the City of Surrey, we have to amend about 20 different zones, as well as a whole bunch of CD [comprehensive development] zones. You can do that through a blanket statement saying 'all single-family lots in the City of Surrey are permitted to have four units,' but then that doesn't really help answer things like the setbacks, and height parameters, and parking requirements. We've [concluded] that it's virtually impossible for us to do a very good job of amending hundreds of zones, so we've taken the approach of really focusing on the number of key zones where most of the rebuilds and infill development is likely to occur — first and foremost."

Luymes says he has seen an increase in interest from builders, but also uncertainty from those builders as it relates to the market for SSMUH. For some projects involving subdivisions, some have asked the City whether each of those lots that were previously planned to have a single-family home can now each house a multiplex, or whether they can be rezoned to allow townhouses instead.

Like the City of Vancouver, Luymes says the work that needs to be done in the City of Surrey as it relates to the transit-oriented development area bill is not as intense as the SSMUH bill, as the deadline requirement is just for designating the TOD areas. He says the City is currently contemplating what they will require in these new TOD areas — whether to require rental housing, for example — as well as fielding inquiries from developers.

Surrey has a team of about four to six people dedicated to the implementation work, with support from other staff as needed. Luymes commends the Province for providing grants to local governments to help municipalities hire additional staff for this work, but notes that there are a limited amount of people that are qualified and that municipalities may end up competing against one another.

"It's going to be a pretty frantic few months for sure. The objective is good, but the timeline is tight, and with some of the details not having been fully worked out, there will be a transition period and there will be a period where we won't have all the answers. In general, the City is supportive of the direction, but the devil is always in the details, and some of those details are still being worked out."


\u200bKelown City Hall.Kelown City Hall. (City of Kelowna)

For the City of Kelowna, the piece of legislation that has perhaps required the most energy, and drawn the most media coverage, is the piece regarding short-term rentals.

"That, with Kelowna being a tourist town, is a double-edged sword," says Chief Planner Nola Kilmartin. "We have service industry staff who can't find a place to live. We also have the risk of limiting accommodations for tourists when they come here. So we have both of those issues, but we'll basically have to see how it all plays out over the next year."

Also easing the workload is that the City did not have to rework their policies regarding community amenity contributions (CACs), because the City does not utilize and charge CACs on rezonings like almost all of the major BC municipalities do.

Staff at the City of Kelowna did not have any heads up about the transit-oriented development areas legislation, but various staff became aware of the SMMUH legislation at various times. Director of Planning Ryan Smith was involved in consultations with the Province, but the details were not provided to some others until just a couple days before the regulations were released in December, according to Adam Cseke, who was the project manager that led the SSMUH implementation work.

Kilmartin says that at the UBCM conference in mid-February, the general sentiment she heard was that many municipalities are not ready to make these changes and are hoping for extensions on the deadlines the Province has set.

"I kind of think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain," says Kilmartin. "The risk of dragging this out until past the deadline is you're creating uncertainty for smaller, medium, and large-scale developers. We still need to keep that [housing] supply going and we still need to make development an attractive option in this city. Giving them that certainty is an important part of that."

For the City of Kelowna, much of the work it has already done via its Infill Options Project has made implementing the SSMUH changes relatively easier compared to other municipalities, mostly requiring just tweaks of what the City was already doing. As of result of the various work the City has previously done, Cseke says the City is on pace to finish implementation early, by April.

"With Kelowna, we had the advantage of our new Official Community Plan being approved in January 2022," says Cseke. "Then, right after that, I rewrote our entire zoning bylaw — municipalities do that like once every 20 or 25 years — and that was approved by Council in September 2022, so we already had a massive rewrite that aligned with our OCP. We didn't have extraneous things related to our zoning bylaw, plus I was already extremely familiar with it, so it made it relatively easy."

On the topic of infrastructure and whether it'll be able to handle the increase in infill development, Cseke says Kelowna took the approach of pre-zoning first and then figuring out the infrastructure challenges afterwards, whereas other municipalities are likely hamstrung because they're trying to solve all the engineering problems first, before rezoning.

Cseke says their approach really "unlocked" infill development for them, to the point that around 100 new fourplexes have arose out of the pre-zoning of 800 lots.

"You don't need to see the whole staircase to take the first step," says Kilmartin.