The municipalities of British Columbia do not have the legislative authority to use mandatory inclusionary zoning. Although the term is used in the province, it has been inappropriately applied to other inclusionary practices that are only loosely related to inclusionary zoning and also far less demanding and effective.
The province did pass legislation in 1992, 1993 and 1994 making changes to the Vancouver Charter and its Municipal Act (now, the Local Government Act). These changes directed municipalities to plan for affordable housing, and authorized the use of various regulatory tools in providing for that housing.
According the explanatory guidelines accompanying the legislation, it enabled the use specifically of two inclusionary practices, with which inclusionary zoning is often confused:
1) ‘density bonusing’: Under this provision, municipalities are able to offer higher density in exchange for affordable housing, special needs housing, and/or other amenities.
2) ‘comprehensive density zoning’: Under this provision, municipalities are able to create customized zoning regulations for large, complex and/or multi-use redevelopment sites. This typically involves a negotiated re-zoning process, through which the municipalities offer the developer increased densities and other regulatory benefits in return for the provision of affordable housing and/or other amenities.
The first of these provisions is comparable to s37 of Ontario’s Planning Act, and the second in many ways is similar to Toronto’s ‘large sites policy’. Neither of these is considered to be inclusionary zoning in this province.
In a notable related matter, municipalities also were given the authority to enter into ‘housing agreements’ with developers when using these tools. Using these agreements, municipalities can secure the long-term affordability of the housing, both ownership and rental, provided by the developers. These agreements can be used to control such aspects as the tenure, management, price or rent, and eligibility of the occupants for an indefinite period.
Municipalities in Ontario lack comparable powers, and so their ability to protect long-term affordability is more limited.
A good example of a comprehensive development zoning policy can be found in Vancouver – particularly, in what was initially called its ‘20% Core Need Housing Policy’, but now its ‘Non-Market Housing Policy’. It is broadly similar to inclusionary zoning in that both rely on the development approval process to leverage the provision of affordable housing in what otherwise would be exclusively market-rate developments.
Beyond this, there are many very significant differences between the two. Unlike inclusionary zoning, Vancouver’s comprehensive development zoning typically has been:
- applied to selected sites, and not to all or most sites across the city;
- used to secure land for housing, not the housing units themselves;
- dependent on government funding to build the housing, not solely through the use of regulatory concessions; and
- used to provide housing on separate sites, not housing fully integrated with the market units.
Having said all this, and to add to the confusion, it must be acknowledged that there are a number of municipalities in the province that have implemented a form of voluntary inclusionary zoning. In these programs, developers are encouraged – but not required – to provide affordable housing through density increases and other incentives. The comparable voluntary programs in the US have been found to be far less productive than the mandatory programs, and so are no longer generally promoted there for that reason. (See Mandatory vs Voluntary Programs.)
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