Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a motion directing staff to consider the pros and cons of guaranteed waiting times for building permits amid growing demands across the city.
Applications for residential and commercial renovation permits rose 25% from a year ago, according to the city, while the number of permits for new construction of single-family homes, duplexes and lane homes increased. more than doubled.
The city says the surge comes as pandemic restrictions begin to ease, and while it reports progress in speeding up the processing of permit applications, construction companies say the permit backlog has led to halted and stalled projects over the past year, in addition to rising construction costs.
“Building demand is skyrocketing in our city,” Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said. “We are fully recovering from the pandemic, and people want to start building new homes and renovating.”
Other North American cities have already implemented guaranteed wait times for permits, including the City of Surrey, which introduced the practice last year.
Doug Langford, president of construction company JDL Homes, says the permit backlog has created logistical difficulties, leaving projects in limbo.
“We risk canceling projects altogether,” Langford said. “If we’re relying on the city to process a permit and I don’t have a permit, I really can’t do any work. Nobody gets a job and nobody gets paid, so it’s all a trickle-down effect .”
Meanwhile, he says, the cost of materials and services has increased. One project took 13 months to be approved.
“And during that time, the cost of the house went up by $300,000 that year,” said Langford, who also says he’s frustrated with the city’s lack of communication.
“There’s no real structure when you call to ask, ‘What stage are you at? And if it’s at this stage, how many more weeks can we expect?'”
Not knowing an approximate date for permit approval can put additional stress on landlords, he adds.
“They’re going to have to uproot their whole family, move, go find accommodation.”
“We sometimes end up bearing the brunt of their frustration because we organize everything and a lot of it is out of our control.”
Report expected early next year
Stewart says a report on guaranteed timelines is expected early next year.
He warned that upcoming municipal elections and the swearing-in of new council members could jeopardize budgets and priorities.
“We need to get things built as quickly as possible, but it needs to be done in a safe way.”
“There may be small things we can do straight away, but we’ll see if we can ramp it up and explore big changes next year.”
But Langford says that while it’s a first step, it’s not enough.
“It’s not very helpful at all,” he said. “As we sit down with our clients and go through the planning stages, we just have to hand the job over to them assuming it will take a year or more to get a permit and do our best.”
The city’s permitting task force, established a year ago to investigate and enforce proposals to speed up processing times, says it has made progress amid increased submissions and that It is currently processing more than 35% of requests compared to 2021.
It says landlords and businesses can now expect low-complexity renovation permits to be issued in as little as two weeks.
The task force’s presentation to council on June 7 noted an improvement in wait times over the past year, which it says is the result of streamlined policies, increased staffing and the development of new tools. The group says it intends to focus on smaller-scale developments.
A list of the working group’s actions to streamline permit delivery times is available at City of Vancouver website.
Langford welcomes the city’s initiatives to deal with the surge in applications, but says his business is still burdened with the fallout from the backlog, including projects still underway.
“It’s happening in one of the most expensive cities in the world,” he said. “The costs have been very frustrating.”