Regulations slowing development

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The board of directors and staff of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) believe that increased provincial regulations are putting barriers to the development of new homes in the region.

"In some communities, new housing construction has slowed to the point where the existing housing supply is not being replenished," says Bill Miller, RDBN Chair.

The last house built in Burns Lake was in 2011.

"The cost of construction, the limited supply of licensed home builders, the challenges of becoming an approved owner builder, and the restrictions that apply to owner builders are threatening to become a barrier to the maintenance of an adequate supply of new housing in our region," says Miller.

Since July 4, 2016, applicants for owner builder authorization must successfully pass a 90-minute exam consisting of 100 questions and obtain a grade 70 or higher to be able to build their own house. This is an addition to the other eligibility requirements necessary for authorization.

According to B.C. Housing, 11 owner builder authorizations were issued to applicants within the regional district since the introduction of the exam. However, the RDBN points out that 10 of these authorizations were exempted from taking the exam because the applicants applied prior to July 4.

The RDBN says that, in recent years, 75 to 80 per cent of new homes in the region were owner built homes. In 2016, however, this percentage dropped to 50 per cent. And in 2017, only one building permit was issued to an owner builder (who applied prior to July 4).

Over the past six months, the RDBN board has written three letters to the provincial government expressing their concerns.

"The challenges associated with obtaining owner builder authorization are notable, and are having a real impact in our communities," says a letter signed by Miller sent in November 2016.

"We estimate that over the last 20 years, the cost of building a new home in our region has increased by nearly 70 per cent," continues Miller. "A significant cause of the increased cost of building a new dwelling in the region is a direct result of changing regulations."

A second letter, sent by the RDBN in December 2016, asked the province to "closely consider the impacts" of implementing a requirement for mandatory building official qualifications. The RDBN says this new requirement would result in recruitment challenges, property taxation increases, drain of inspectors to the south of the province and gaps in coverage.

"It is difficult for local governments, particularly those in the north, to recruit qualified building inspectors," explained Miller. "The implementation of mandatory minimum qualifications will create a high demand for qualified building officials throughout the province and will further exacerbate the recruitment challenges faced by all local governments."

The most recent letter, sent in March 2017, asked the province to reconsider the implementation of the Energy Step Code in the region. The Energy Step Code is a provincial initiative designed to have local governments implement the requirements for all new buildings to be "net zero" - a building that has reduced energy requirements so that the it produces as much energy as it consumes - by 2032.

The RDBN says the Energy Step Code will introduce notable new costs for building materials, mechanical equipment and testing by professionals.

"Given our climate, and limited access to the professional services required by the step code, the challenges and impacts to our region can be expected to be notably greater than in other areas of the province," says Miller.

In a letter to the regional district, minister responsible for housing and deputy premier Rich Coleman said a working group has "discussed at length" the challenges faced by small and northern communities and the concerns raised by the regional district. He said the working group agreed on the need for flexibility in the qualification requirements of building officials.

Coleman said the ministry expects to take "a number of actions" to respond to the need for more flexible requirements over the next few years.

"Other organizations are also taking action to address the concerns you raise," continued Coleman. "The Building Officials' Association of B.C. has begun work with my ministry to attract new entrants to the profession, increasing the pool of qualified building officials."

Coleman added that he would direct his staff to meet with the regional district to follow up on their concerns.

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