BC’s new transit-oriented development plan is actually a win for all of us

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      The BC Provincial Government recently announced plans to increase housing density near rapid transit in a variety of locations across the province where it currently is not permitted. Though development often raises valid concerns about displacement, data shows that this plan will actually be a huge win for renters, and for the Metro Vancouver region as a whole.

      The proposed legislation is aimed at building more complete communities near transit, services, and amenities. The policy will require municipalities to designate Transit Oriented Development (TOD) areas, where municipalities must: 

      • meet new provincial standards for allowable height and density
      • remove parking minimums
      • align standards and details with provincial policy

      Though the official list of TOD areas has not been released, for Metro Vancouver, it will likely apply to SkyTrain stations and bus exchanges; the heights and densities permitted will be based on the distance from the TOD area. (It’s important to note that this new policy will only affect areas where there are no existing municipal plans that permit at least equivalent heights and densities.)

      Some are concerned that the increased density may cause increased displacement. In Burnaby, for example, new density has focused on the Metrotown area, resulting in harmful mass evictions. To combat this, the City of Burnaby has since enforced a Tenant Assistance Program, which requires that where new developments impact existing tenants, the developer must offer tenants a new unit at the same rent, along with compensation for the interim period during construction. Similar protections have been introduced along the Broadway corridor in Vancouver. These protections are very important to prevent evictions and discourage redevelopment in renter-dense areas.

      In 2022, data scientist Jens von Bergmann completed an analysis that looked at the type of land use within 800 metres of our SkyTrain stations in Vancouver. This study revealed two key findings: stations either had very low density, surrounded by majority single-family or duplex houses, or they were surrounded by higher densities, such as mixed-use high-rises. For the majority of the former, this new legislation will permit much-needed new housing in areas previously exclusive only to those who could afford a detached house.

      Transportation planner Denis Agar completed another study with von Bergmann that looked at the renter density along our frequent transit network in Metro Vancouver, and in particular, the density of dwelling units and of renters within 800 metres of the current SkyTrain network. Their results show that many of these areas near existing SkyTrain stations have fewer than one renter per acre, with most having less than five; most of these areas also had fewer than 20 dwelling units per acre. Nanaimo Station, for example, is surrounded by approximately five renters per acre, while Holdom station and Sperling Burnaby Lake station’s areas average only one renter per acre. According to renowned urban theorist Jane Jacobs, the point at which lively diversity and public life can arise starts at 100 dwelling units per acre—a far cry from where we are at right now in most neighbourhoods.

      More homes near rapid transit equals more vibrant and sustainable communities. On top of that, it uses what we already have—our existing infrastructure—to connect residents with closer amenities and employment.

      There are a variety of municipally- and Translink-owned sites near our existing SkyTrain and bus transfer stations. These locations, if redeveloped under this new legislation, could experience quicker and more streamlined development approvals, resulting in deeper affordability. Hand in hand with strong tenant protection policies, this new legislation will promote density in many neighbourhoods that are currently unaffordable and inaccessible to the majority of our population.

      Our housing crisis is not a question of whether we should have density or not, but rather of where it should go. This TOD approach leverages our current transportation infrastructure to allow more people access to liveable communities. And that should be seen as good news for everyone.