The provincial government recently passed Bill 44, which will have a significant impact on housing in Merritt. This new legislation requires all municipalities with over 5,000 residents (which includes 90% of the province’s population) to allow for four to six housing units on single-family lots. Additionally, public rezoning hearings will be prohibited, and municipalities will be required to conform to an unpublished “policy manual” created by the province when writing official community plans. Rezoning that aligns with these plans will be automatically approved, taking away the power of towns to customize zoning based on the unique aspects of their communities.
This is a major shift in power from municipalities to the provincial government, possibly the largest since British Columbia became a province. Many prominent figures, including former Premier Mike Harcourt and President of the Union of BC Municipalities Trish Mandewo, have criticized the legislation for its top-down approach and potential negative impact on community planning. Concerns have been raised about whether municipalities will be able to provide the necessary infrastructure for the increased density resulting from this bill.
While there is no denying that British Columbia is facing a housing crisis, taking away local zoning control may lead to haphazard and unplanned density patterns, requiring municipalities to hurriedly provide infrastructure. A more reasonable solution would be to provide funding to municipalities to create the housing they need and address the root cause of the problem: demand. Despite the government’s claim that Bill 44 will create 130,000 housing units in 10 years, the province sees a population growth of approximately 103,000 through immigration alone in a year. This means that any increase in housing supply will be quickly negated by population growth.
Some argue that provinces like Ontario and British Columbia, which receive the majority of immigrants to Canada, should have more control over immigration levels. Pressuring the federal government to grant B.C. greater authority over immigration, similar to what Quebec has, could allow for better management of population growth and housing demands.
It is crucial to find a balance between addressing the housing crisis and preserving the unique characteristics of each community. While the intentions behind Bill 44 may be positive, it is essential to consider the long-term consequences and work towards comprehensive solutions that meet the needs of both current and future residents in Merritt and other communities across the province.