Creating more affordable housing – by modifying building code

Much has been said the last few weeks about Vancouver’s and Toronto’s house prices and the possible impact of the 15% tax levied on foreigners on affordable housing. This “BC brand fee” or “BC monetization fee” will indeed have a downward impact on demand, and thus, house prices albeit a modest one. However it is just one of many factors that influence supply and demand. The major benefit is that locals will get a 15% price advantage over foreigners, and that the BC Liberal government is seen as pro-active in a pre-election year.3D View

Besides foreign money, there are at least 8-9 other factors all contributing to high house prices such as

  1. Baby boomers living longer in their own home and not moving, or staying in the region and not moving to cheaper but more boring places like Vancouver Island or Okanagan in very large numbers, away from friends and family;
  2. Babyboomers’ kids, the Gen Y folks, now in their late 20’s and early 30’s with jobs wanting to buy – a bigger cohort than babyboomers actually;
  3. Immigration, some with little cash to better their lives but many with cash to escape oppressive and undemocratic regimes;
  4. Lack of land and/or no more land created or designated for housing, for example from ALR (agricultural land reserve) and/or dyked ocean or river flats;
  5. Low interest rates (our article see here on why this will persist for 2+ decades at least);
  6. Lack of densification along arterial roads, as MetroVan overall could easily support twice as many people with proper densification and rapid transit infrastructure;
  7. Weak tax enforcement to allow real estate to shelter (i.e. hide i.e. not report) investment profits quite easily in Canada;
  8. No capital gains taxes on personal residences and last, but not least
  9. Building codes.

Let’s look at one of them more closely: building codes.

Linked here is the official BC building code for staircases, as one example of many. STAIRCASE-CODE-BC

Seriously ? A 15 page detailed design on staircases, detailing everything from landings to threads to direction of door swings to width and heights of steps ? Everything is mandated. Have a read. 15 pages. And that is just staircases. The full building code is several hundred pages. While much of it is safety related, these are all costly elements that a builder must adhere to. To wit, I am an investor in a major affordable (sub $300,000 1200-1500 sq ft) townhouse project in Oliver, BC right now ( see above picture ) where we want to add an optional 3rd bedroom or loft on the third floor. To save both space and cost a skinny spiral staircase or a much narrower, steeper ladder-type stair was considered, but is not allowed in BC. The result: higher build cost, less space and/or no third bedroom. Does this make sense for a loft ?

Perhaps we ought to amend the building codes and go through it line by line to see if all this is really required to allow for more affordable housing ? I am writing to ministers and agencies in BC as we speak to get this started.


Thomas Beyer, President

Prestigious Properties Group