Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the City of Vancouver asked the B.C. government to intervene to prevent the project from being derailed by a court challenge from community group Kitsilano Coalition.
The province is for the first time using legislation to push through a controversial supportive housing development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano area and circumvent a court challenge by a neighbourhood group.
It’s a sign that Premier David Eby has lost patience with so-called NIMBYs who he says use every excuse possible to oppose desperately needed housing projects. And it likely won’t be the last time the province uses its legislative hammer to force through housing.
Residents leading the opposition to the Arbutus project and another development in Kitsilano say it sets a “scary” and undemocratic precedent.
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon cited the long delays facing the supportive housing development on Arbutus Street — which will provide permanent housing for 129 people without homes — as justification for Bill-26, introduced Tuesday morning. Vancouver council under Mayor Ken Sim asked the B.C. government to intervene to prevent the project from being derailed by a court challenge from community group Kitsilano Coalition, which has opposed the project at every step.
“We’ve spent close to two years going through the process to get these supportive housing units that are critically needed in the community approved,” Kahlon told reporters Tuesday. “City council approved them. We’re in a housing crisis. We simply cannot wait longer and longer to get the critical housing that we need for people in the community. So that’s why we’re taking the steps we’re taking today.”
Kahlon said it is the first time the B.C. government has used legislative powers to push through a housing development on land not owned by the province.
The bill, called the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Amendment Act, states that the public hearing relating to the project, amending the bylaw and “all powers and duties in relation to the zoning bylaw” were “validly adopted by the Vancouver council” … “despite any decision of a court to the contrary made before or after this section comes into force.” The bill is not yet law, but under the majority government it is likely to pass before the end of the spring session.
In July, the City of Vancouver, under the previous council of Mayor Kennedy Stewart, approved the rezoning for a city-owned site on Arbutus Street between 7th and 8th Avenue to allow a 13-storey building with 129 one-person social housing units offering mental health and other supports.
In October, Kitsilano Coalition filed a petition in Supreme Court of B.C. to have a judicial review of council’s decision, alleging council failed to ensure “transparency, fairness and disclosure of key information in its decision-making process on the rezoning application.” Among other things, the group alleged Stewart restricted the ability of councillors to ask questions of B.C. Housing, which is responsible for funding the development.
Cheryl Grant, a spokesperson for Kitsilano Coalition, said the proposed legislation is “shocking” and “unprecedented to remove the voice of the community of the citizens.”
Grant said it is still unclear how the province’s actions will impact the group’s legal petition. However, she fears the province will use similar tactics to shut down any neighbourhood group that has concerns about a housing development.
Eby, whose riding of Vancouver-Point Grey includes Kitsilano, has previously slammed the Kitsilano Coalition for looking for every excuse to “oppose this really necessary housing.” That was in response to statements from the group last summer that Eby’s dismissal of the B.C. Housing board should call the entire Arbutus project into question.
The Kitsilano Coalition had already cited the height of the building, the shadow it will cast and the number of supportive housing units as reasons the City of Vancouver should reject it, Eby told Postmedia in July.
Kahlon did not say whether the province might use a similar legislative hammer to force through other housing projects such as the proposed Sen̓áḵw development, which will include 11 residential towers on a 4.2-hectare — or four city blocks — anchor-shaped parcel of land belonging to the Squamish Nation. That project is also facing a legal challenge from the Kits Point Residents Association, which is seeking a judicial review over the service agreement between city council and the Squamish Nation to manage utilities and services.
Right now, we’re using it for this piece of important social housing, affordable housing, but we’ll have to see in the future,” he said.
Jeremy Braude, a Kitsilano resident involved in the fight against the Sen̓áḵw development, said the legislation sets a “scary” precedent.
“It puts the power in Victoria’s hands, where in fact the local communities are getting cut out more and more,” he said. “We’re starting to live in a very undemocratic world.”
Since taking power in November, Eby has vowed to use the province’s legislative might to overrule local councils that move too slow in approving higher-density housing. The Housing Supply Act, which will take effect later this year, includes the power to overrule municipalities and rezone entire neighbourhoods to create more density.
Later this fall, the government will introduce legislation that will overhaul municipal zoning rules to allow for more so-called “missing-middle” housing, such as townhomes and multiplex homes on single-family lots.