How do municipal processes, approvals, and government fees and charges affect housing affordability in Canada?
This study is intended to help establish standards that municipalities can and should aim to meet, and that industry and the public can and should call for, with supporting data and best practices to show the way. It is an opportunity to start a productive conversation for all, identifying best practices, ways to improve processes, and opportunities for governments and industry to work together to tackle affordability and other housing challenges.
Housing affordability continues to be a challenge in all parts of the country. A key component of affordability is the price of a home, and a major part of the price is the cost to develop and build. In Canada, municipal processes, approvals, and charges have been steadily increasing. This adds cost to building both low-rise and high-rise housing, contributes to higher prices, and ultimately erodes affordability.
The Municipal Benchmarking Study was commissioned by CHBA and delivered by Altus Group. The study compares 21 Canadian municipalities, examining how their processes, approvals timelines, and charges and fees contribute to housing affordability and supply issues in major housing markets across Canada. The report reads as a report card to show which municipal governments are leading in which of the three pillars of the study—planning system features, approval timelines and government charges.
This study was undertaken before the COVID-19 health crisis in Canada. Throughout the pandemic, many municipalities have worked with the building industry to innovate in order to keep housing moving – this has included more online applications, virtual inspections and several other new ways of doing things.
Summary of Findings
Each participating municipality has been assigned a score that combines their performance on planning features, approvals timelines and government charges. This ranking provides a short-hand to show whichmunicipal governments are leading in which of the three areas at the moment, as well as an overall ranking. Subsequent studies will help to show changes in the approach taken by local governments to improve housing affordability through their use of the planning system, approvals, and charges.
In addition to the report published last year, CHBA has assembled local Municipal Benchmarking Project (MBP) Factsheets that are available below. These local factsheets summarize the key findings from the Municipal Benchmarking Study for each participating jurisdiction. This study, along with the accompanying factsheets, is meant to help participating local HBAs communicate and collaborate with their municipalities on development processes, approvals and charges
Best practice examples
Based on a scan of programs initiated by municipalities, provinces, and locations outside of Canada to improve the development review processes, there are several key themes involved in the process reviews underway, or recently completed:
- Forced technological changes from COVID;
- Pairing zoning reforms with ‘off-the-shelf’ pre-approved designs;
- Enhancing transparency to the public on municipal decision making;
- Reforming provincial planning policies;
- Making municipal decision making more accountable by creating service standards and enhancing appeal rights to ensure conformity and consistency with provincial policy;
- Employing service standards for application review but paired with a flexible system to enable context-specific considerations that may merit longer timelines;
- Vastly enhancing the availability of data, and requiring standardized annual reports on significant planning matters such as housing approvals and approval timelines.
- Providing regulatory and financial relief for affordable housing projects.