Affordability Policy Political

Mythbusting: Is it True that Developers only Build for “Rich” People?

Too often, affordable housing advocates treat potential allies as adversaries. They accuse developers of being “greedy” and oppose policy reform that could significantly increase the moderate-priced infill development we desperately need.

For example, recently a very nice member of an advocacy group I work with argued that it is futile to raise allowable densities and reduce parking requirements because developers only build for “rich people,” with a sneer suggesting that “rich people” are undesirable vermin. Is that statement true? Let’s investigate.

Of 94 condominiums currently listed for sale in downtown Victoria, most (51) are priced under $600,000 and so can be considered affordable to moderate-income ($50,000-100,000 annual income) households.

Down Victoria Condominium Listings By Price Range

Price Range Number Currently Listed
Less than $300,000









Most of the higher priced units (over $600,000) are in new buildings, while most moderate-priced ($300,000-600,000) units are 5-15 years old. Almost all are in concrete high-rise buildings and include at least one parking space. Prices tend to be significantly lower in low-rise buildings located in residential neighborhoods. For example, in  Vic West there are currently 125 condominiums priced under $600,000, starting at $235,000 for a 758 sf unit with underground parking.

Even if new homes are initially too expensive for low-income households, building moderate-priced housing tends to increase lower-income affordability through filtering, as some occupants of lower-priced units move into the new homes, and over time as the new units depreciate in value. According to recent research, building market-price apartments causes a kind of housing musical chairs, as households move into new units; for every 100 new market-rate units built, approximately 65 units are freed up in existing buildings, including 20-40 units affordable to lower-income households.

Below are income equivalencies, assuming that living in a walkable urban neighborhood allows a household to save $5,000 annually on transportation, that wood-frame multi-family with unbundled parking is $100,000 cheaper than a downtown highrise with underground parking, and prices decline 20% after a decade. This indicates that if a $500,000 new suburban house requires a $84,000 annual income, a downtown highrise is affordable for  $68,000 income households, a condo in a wood-frame low-rise building with unbundled parking is affordable to $51,000 annual incomes, and after a decade these become affordable to 20% lower incomes.

Affordable Income Equivalencies for $500,000 Suburban Home

  Suburban Downtown With Parking Residential Neighborhood Unbundled Parking
Now $84,000 $68,000 $51,000
After a decade $68,000 $54,000 $41,000


Policy reforms, such as those described in Our Affordable and Inclusive Neighborhood Plan would allow developers to build more affordable homes. Let me mention another relevant example which shows that, when development densities are restricted, the lowest priced units are the first to be eliminated. In 2003 a developer proposed the Bohemia and Castana, a pair of three- and four-story mixed-use buildings with 71 residential units, a third of which were to be moderate-price rentals, in the Cook Street Village. The city rejected the proposal due to local residents’ objections to what they considered the project’s excessive size, although the area already has several four-story apartment buildings. Instead, the developer constructed a three-story building with 51 condominiums but no rentals. In a city with nearly 50,000 houses, 20 fewer moderate-priced rental units is too small to notice, but if this is typical, it indicates that community resistance reduces affordable infill housing development by 40% compared with what the market demands.

The Castana Building was planned with 20 moderate-priced rental apartments, but these required a fourth story. The three-story limit eliminated these affordable units.

Of course, some households require subsidized homes. Thanks to the good efforts of housing advocates, community organizations and government agencies, we have increased social housing development from 100-200 up to 200-400 annual units, but even this higher rates only satisfies about 10% of our total housing need. The majority of moderate-priced housing must be built by commercial developers.

This analysis indicates that, given the opportunity, developers will build moderate-priced housing that increases both moderate- and lower-income affordability. We need lots more of of such housing.

Our region grows at 4,000-6,000 new residents annually, and so needs to add 2,000-4,000 new housing units to keep up with demand and drive down prices. According to our Regional Housing Affordability Strategy, by 2038 the region needs approximately 10,000 new units priced under $875 per month, about 7,500 priced at $875-1,375, plus more than 17,000 priced above $1,375.

This analysis indicates that it is inaccurate and unfair to assume that developers only build housing for the rich. Given the opportunity, developers will build lots of moderate-priced housing in walkable urban neighborhoods, which increases affordable for lower-income households by freeing up existing lower-priced units. If we consider developers allies, we will support policy reform that increase moderate-priced development. But, as long as affordability advocates see developers as adversaries, and fail to support policies that allow more moderate-priced infill, development will continue to lag behind our regional needs, and much of the new housing added will be in sprawled, automobile-dependent areas where transportation is costly.

Affordability Environment Policy Political Transportation

Climate Action – Our Local Emission Reduction Action Plan

Thousands of people, including many young activists and a parade of killer whales,  gathered outside the legislature last Friday as part of the worldwide climate strike.

Now what? How can we achieve our emission reduction targets in ways that also support other economic, social and environmental goals?

Cities for Everyone has solutions! Our transportation and neighborhood development action plans can achieve our region’s emission reduction goals, and provide other economic, social and environmental co-benefits.

Travel Change and Emission Reduction Targets

  • CRD: Reduce GHG emissions 61% below 2007 levels, by 2038, increase Victoria area transit mode share to 12% and double walking and bicycling by 2030.
  • Victoria: 55% of trips are by walking and bicycling and 100% of neighborhood are “complete” by 2041, 25% of trips are by transit and 100% of personal vehicles are renewably powered by 2050.
  • Canada: Reduce 2005 emission levels 30% by 2030.
  • British Columbia: Reduce 2007 emission levels 40% by 2030, 60% by 2040 and 80% by 2050.

Below are highlights.

Our Efficient and Equitable Transportation Action Plan

  1. Accelerate regional transit plan implementation. Implement the regional Transit Future plan in ten rather than 25 years. Increase transit funding by 50-100% ($125-250 annual per capita).
  2. Improve interregional transit connections. Provide frequent and affordable transit service from Victoria to Duncan/Nanaimo and Vancouver. Coordinate planning and services among provincial and regional agencies.
  3. Improve active transport (walking and bicycling) conditions. The CRD has a Regional Pedestrian & Cycling Masterplan, and local governments are improving walking and bicycling conditions, but implementation is slow due to inadequate funds. Increase active transport program funding by $50-100 annual per capita.
  4. Implement Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs. Local and regional governments can Implement TDM strategies and require TDM programs by large employers, as proposed in the CRD’s TDM strategy.
  5. Transit Oriented Development. Coordinate transit improvements and local policy reforms to create compact, walkable neighborhoods along frequent transit. Peer communities, including EdmontonHamilton and Saskatoon, have TOD guidelines and incentives.
  6. Eliminate or reduce minimum parking requirements and develop programs to more efficiently manage parking. Many cities are eliminating or significantly reducing parking requirements, so residents are no longer required to pay for parking spaces they don’t need.
  7. Encourage electric vehicles. Develop recharging stations. Encourage electric vehicle purchase.
  8. Encourage efficient commercial transport.
    Develop freight transport management plans and programs.

If fully implemented these eight policies can significantly reduce automobile travel and emissions, especially if supported by provincial and national strategies such as fuel tax increases, pay-as-you-drive vehicle insurance and registration fees, and electric vehicle incentives.

Our Affordable and Inclusive Neighborhood Action Plan

  1. Pre-zone areas designated for multi-family in the Official Community Plan (OCP). This will reduce infill development costs, increasing moderate-priced project feasibility.
  2. Allow an additional story for corner lots, larger lots (at least 1,000 square meters), and on busier streets (arterials or subarterials). These are locations where taller buildings have less impact on neighbours.
  3. Exempt moderate-priced housing from inclusivity mandates. This encourages developers to build more moderate-price units, which directly increases affordability for moderate-income households, and for lower-income households through filtering.
  4. Reduce fees and approval requirements for smaller and moderate-priced infill developments, since these are the projects we most need.
  5. Reduce or eliminate parking requirements and require or encourage unbundling (parking rented separately from housing units), so residents are not forced to pay for parking spaces they do not need. Many cities are doing this now to increase affordability, allow more compact development and reduce traffic problems. See: Progress on Parking Minimum Removals 
  6. Allow higher densities and building heights in exchange for more affordable units. Target densities can be applied in accessible locations, for example, at least three stories along minor arterials and four stories along major arterials.
  7. Mandate or reward energy-efficient housing, and
    support efficiency retrofits of existing homes.
    Building energy is a major financial cost and source
    of emissions, so improving efficiency helps achieve
    affordability and environmental goals.
  8. Improve affordable housing design. Municipal governments can support contests, planning charrettes and workshops to encourage better design. The Affordable Housing Design Advisor, the Missing Middle Website, and Portland’s Infill Design Project provide resources for improving lower-priced housing design.
  9. Subsidize housing for people with special needs, including those with disabilities and low incomes.

The figure below shows how location affects resident’s vehicle travel and carbon emissions. Households located in suburban, single-family houses drive about three times more and produce about three times the transportation emissions as comparable households located in walkable urban neighborhoods. In addition to reducing emissions, these automobile travel reductions and fuel savings increase affordability, as well as reducing other traffic problems.

Household Vehicle Travel and Emissions by Location (Salon 2014)

These development policies can significantly reduce energy consumption and pollution emissions, while also increasing affordability, public health and economic opportunity. We can create more affordable, inclusive and successful communities!

Affordability Policy Political

Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay Candidates’ Affordability Ratings

Affordability is an important issue in the 2018 municipal election. Many lower- and middle-income households spend more than they can afford on housing and transportation, leaving insufficient money to spend on other essential goods such as food and healthcare. Solving this problem requires local policy changes which increase development of affordable housing types (secondary suites, multiplexes, townhouses and low-rise apartments) in walkable urban neighborhoods. This will require municipal government action.

To help voters evaluate candidates’ positions on affordability, Cities for Everyone surveyed mayor and city council candidates in Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay. Of 93 candidates contacted we received 31 completed surveys. We also analyzed candidates’ websites and interviews, and incumbents’ voting records (see graph below), and their electability based on name recognition and the quality of their campaign. This column summarizes our results (click here for PDF version).

Victoria Mayor & Council Infill Development Approval Rates

This graph compares infill development approval ratings. More infill tends to increase middle-income affordability.


The following tables show information sources consulted, electability assessment, overall affordability rating (A is best) and notes for mayoral and council candidates in Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay.


Victoria Mayoral Candidates Affordability Evaluation

Candidate Sources Electability Rating Notes
Saul Anderson None Low D No information available.
Rob Duncan Survey Moderate A Supports strategies to increase affordable infill.
Michael Geoghegan Survey High A Supports strategies to increase affordable infill.
Stephen Hammond Interview High C Favors protecting neighborhoods. No specific affordability policies.
Lisa Helps Survey, Interview High A Supports affordable policies. High infill approval record (95%).
David A. Johnston Survey Low C Considers affordability a low priority.
Bruce McGuigan Survey, Interview Low D Opposes infill. No specific affordability plan.
RyMo None Low D No useful information available.
Alexander Schmid None Low D No affordability plan.
Krysztof Zmuda None Low D No affordability plan.


Victoria Council Candidates Affordability Evaluation

Candidate Sources Electability Rating Notes
Gary Alberts None Medium D No affordability plan.
Marianne Alto Plan High A Multi-facetted affordability plan. High (95%) development approval rating.
Stephen Andrew None Medium D No affordability plan.
Darlene Archibald None Low D No affordability plan.
Laurel Collins Survey, Plan High A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
Sharmarke Dubow Survey, Plan High A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
Steve Filipovic Survey Low B Supports some affordability strategies.
Marg Gardiner Survey Medium C Favors protecting neighborhoods from infill.
Riga Godron None Low D No specific affordability plan.
James Harasymow None Low D Proposes “nano-housing” and increased parking.
Rose Henry None Low No information available.
Ben Isitt Survey High B Supports low-income affordability, but poor infill development approval record (63%).
Jesse Jimenez None Low No information available.
Randie Johal None Medium C No specific affordability plan.
Edison Kahakauwila None Low No information available.
Anna King None Medium A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
Sean Leitenberg Survey Medium B Supports inclusionary zoning, some infill, and other development costs reduction strategies.
Grace Lore Survey High A Strong commitment to affordable infill, particularly for families.
Jeremy Loveday Survey High A Supports affordable infill. Has a moderate (76%) infill development approval record.
Pam Madoff None High D No specific affordability plan, and poor (55%) infill development approval record.
Delmar Martay None Low No information available.
Sarah Potts Survey, Plan High A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
Andrew Reeve Survey Medium A Supports infill and other affordable infill policies.
Jordan Reichert None Medium B Supports various affordability strategies
Ted Smith None Medium C Supports high density on the Douglas Street corridor.
Doug Stewart None Low No information available.
William Tate None Low No information available.
Charlayne    Thornton-Joe Survey High A Supports infill and affordability strategies. Moderate (71%) development approval record.
Geoff Young None High D No specific affordability plan and very poor (50%) infill development approval record.



Saanich Mayoral Candidates Affordability Evaluation

Candidate Sources Electability Rating Notes
Richard Atwell None High B Supports “smart densification,” faster project approvals, and legalizing secondary suites.
Fred Haynes Survey High A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
David Shebib None Low No information available.
Rob Wickson Survey High A Supports affordable housing strategies.



Saanich Council Candidates Affordability Evaluation

Candidate Sources Electability Rating Notes
Benjamin Allan Survey Medium A Supports infill and reduced parking requirements.
Trevor Barry Survey Medium A Supports infill and reduced parking requirements.
Susan Brice None High B Supports affordable housing in walkable urban villages. No specific policies.
Judy Brownoff None High B Supports infill in Centres, Villages and Corridors.
Kathleen Burton None Medium B Supports “smart densification.”
Nathalie Chambers Survey Medium B Supports low-income affordability strategies.
Zac de Vries Survey High A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
Karen Harper None Medium B Supports “smart densification.”
Ian Jessop None Medium B Supports “smart densification.”
Vernon Lord None Low C Concerned about homelessness, but has no plans to address other affordability issues.
Rebecca Mersereau Survey High A Supports for infill and other affordability strategies.
Cory Montgomery None Medium B Supports “smart densification.”
Shawn Newby Survey Medium A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
Teale Phelps Bondaroff Survey High A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
Colin Plant Survey High A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.
Art Pollard Survey Medium B Supports more student and rental housing, and examining secondary suite policies.
Rishi Sharma None Low B Supports plan to consider more affordable options.
Ned Taylor Survey Medium A Supports infill and other affordability strategies.


Oak Bay

Oak Bay Mayoral Candidates Affordability Evaluation

Candidate Sources Electability Rating Notes
Nils Jensen Survey High C Supports modest infill.
Kevin Murdoch None High B Supports a municipal plan to increase housing options.



Oak Bay Council Candidates Affordability Evaluation

Candidate Sources Electability Rating Notes
Andrew Appleton Survey Medium B Supports “gentle density,” particularly in village areas.
Hazel Braithwaite None High C Supports only modest infill.
Anton Brakhage None Medium A Supports more affordable housing options.
Cairine Green Survey Medium C Primarily concerned with protecting neighborhoods.
Isabella Lee None Medium B Supports affordability, but has no specific plans.
Tara Ney Survey High B Supports allowing more secondary suites and duplexes.
Esther Paterson None Medium C No goals or plans for increasing affordability.
Andrew Stinson Survey Medium A Supports affordable infill housing strategies.
Ronald Telfer None Low No information available.
Eric Zhelka Survey High C Supports only modest infill.



Categorizing Candidates

When it comes to affordability policies, Candidates tend to fall into four general categories:

  1. Comprehensive affordability. Support policies that allow more compact infill in residential neighborhoods to increase low- and moderate-income affordability.
  2. Low-income affordability. Focus on subsidizing and mandating below-market housing to increase affordability for people with low incomes and special housing needs.
  3. “Protect neighborhoods.” Oppose neighborhood change and therefore affordable infill.
  4. Unconcerned or unclear. Indicate little concern or provide little information about affordability.


The distinction between comprehensive and low-income affordability is important because there are often trade-offs between these goals. Some policies intended to increase low-income affordability can reduce middle-income affordability, for example, if inclusionary zoning increases moderate-priced housing costs, or housing demolition prohibitions prevent development of larger buildings. Comprehensive affordability advocates support diverse infill housing, including some that is initially too costly for low-income households but increases affordability through filtering, as some low-priced housing occupants move into the new middle-priced units, and over time as the new homes depreciate.

The table below categorizes candidates’ apparent affordability priorities. Voters can use this information to select candidates that reflect their values. Overall, younger candidates tend to place higher value on affordability, while older candidates tend to be more concerned with minimizing change, but there are, of course, exceptions.


Candidates Categorized by Their Affordability Priorities


  Comprehensive Affordability Low-income Affordability “Protect Neighborhoods” Unconcerned        or Unclear


Mayor Lisa Helps

Michael Geoghegan

Rob Duncan

David A. Johnston

Stephen Hammond

Bruce McGuigan

Saul Anderson


Alexander Schmid

Krysztof Zmuda



Marianne Alto

Laurel Collins

Sharmarke Dubow

Anna King

Grace Lore

Jeremy Loveday

Sarah Potts

Andrew Reeve

Charlayne Thornton-Joe

Steve Filipovic

James Harasymow

Ben Isitt

Randie Johal

Sean Leitenberg

Jordan Reichert

Ted Smith

Marg Gardiner

Pam Madoff

Geoff Young

Gary Alberts

Stephen Andrew

Darlene Archibald

Riga Godron

Rose Henry

Jesse Jimenez

Edison Kahakauwila

Delmar Martay

Doug Stewart

William Tate


Mayor Fred Haynes

Rob Wickson

Richard Atwell David Shebib


Benjamin Allan

Trevor Barry

Susan Brice

Judy Brownoff

Zac de Vries

Rebecca Mersereau

Shawn Newby

Teale Phelps Bondaroff

Colin Plant

Ned Taylor

Nathalie Chambers

Vernon Lord

Art Pollard

Kathleen Burton

Karen Harper

Ian Jessop

Cory Montgomery

Rishi Sharma

Oak Bay

Mayor Kevin Murdoch Nils Jensen


Andrew Appleton

Anton Brakhage

Isabella Lee

Tara Ney

Andrew Stinson

Cairine Green

Hazel Braithwaite

Eric Zhelka

Esther Paterson

Candidates tend to fit into one of four general affordability policy categories. This information can help voters choose the candidates who will best represent their priorities.


Below are additional questions to ask candidates concerning their affordability priorities.

Examples of Affordability Questions to Ask Candidates

  • Do you support strategies to increase both low- and middle-income affordability?
  • What will you do to ensure that any household that wants can find suitable housing in a walkable urban neighbourhood?
  • Do you support affordable travel options (walking, bicycling and public transit)? How?
  • Would you support infill development that is consistent with the Official Community Plan (OCP) but opposed by some neighbours?


Of course, there are other factors to consider when choosing which candidates to support. Most voters have other concerns, besides affordability. To influence results it is best to choose candidates that are electable, and will be accessible and effective policy makers.

Click here for a PDF version of the Candidates’ Affordability Rating Report.

Please let us know what you think. For questions or comments contact

Affordability Policy Political

Narrow or Broad Affordability?

When people talk about affordability, they often use a narrow definition which only considers current housing affordability for very low income households, but there are good reasons to use a broader definition that considers middle- as well as low-income households, transportation as well as housing costs, and future as well as current cost burdens (see table below).

Narrow Versus Broad Affordability Analysis



Target populations Homeless and low-income households that spend more than 30% of their budgets on housing Low- and moderate-income households that spend more than 45% of their budgets on housing and transportation
Time perspective Current Current and future
Costs considered Rents or mortgages Rents or mortgages, heating/cooling, maintenance, property taxes and basic transportation
Solutions Preserve and subsidize cheap housing for low-income households Build lots of moderate-priced housing units in walkable urban neighborhoods.


A narrow definition favors policies that preserve and subsidize cheap housing. A broader definition tends to supports policy reforms allow much more development of moderate-priced housing ($200,000-600,000 per unit) in walkable urban neighborhoods. Even if the new units are initially too pricey for lower-income households, they increase affordability through filtering, as some lower-priced housing occupants move up to the moderate-priced units, and over time as they depreciate and become cheaper.

The broader definition expands the political appeal of pro-affordability policies. Preserving and subsidizing cheap housing only directly benefits the lower-income households that are lucky enough to receive those units, and some strategies, such as inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to sell some units below market prices, can harm middle-income households by driving up housing prices. However, policies that allow more affordable infill development and improve non-auto transport options directly benefit both low- and middle-income households, as well as improving public health, reducing pollution and supporting local economic development.

A broader affordability definition offers something for everybody, and so expands the scope of potential political supporters. In this case, broad is better than narrow.

Affordability Policy Political

Vote for Affordability! Campaign

Cities for Everyone is gearing up our Vote for Affordability! campaign to influence the October 20 municipal election. This will including the following activities:

Vote for Affordability! is an important and exciting project. We need help! Please contact Cities for Everyone ( if you might be able to support this campaign with your time or other resources.

Affordability Policy Political Transportation

Vancouver is Making Room for More Affordable Housing

Vancouver’s new Making Room Strategy includes policy reforms to allow more affordable infill development in walkable urban neighborhoods. It will allow townhouses, duplexes and low-rise apartments in neighborhoods currently zoned for single family housing, more and bigger laneway homes, and explore more affordable home ownership options.

The Making Room housing program was created to address a key objective of the Housing Vancouver Strategy—shifting towards the “right supply” of housing which meets the needs of people who live and work in Vancouver. It includes specific targets for increasing the supply of various affordable housing types, including townhouses, purpose built rentals, condominiums, laneway and coach housing, and supportive social housing. The largest categories of new housing are moderate-priced purposed-built rental housing and condominiums, with $1,250 to $3,750 monthly rents or mortgages, reflecting the needs of middle-income families.

The Making Room program’s overall objective is to enable greater housing choices in existing low-density neighbourhoods, which include approximately 65,000 lots. It represents a transition away from neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood planning to a comprehensive, city-wide approach. The program includes all neighbourhoods outside of the City Core area (Downtown and Broadway Corridor), and will establish principles and a consistent decision-making approach to identifying housing options in each neighbourhood.

According to Dan Garrison, Vancouver’s housing policy assistant director,“Our ability to sustain the city going forward into the future and the kinds of diversity that we have in it is going to depend on a certain amount of change. Retaining the amount of low density, single, detached forms of housing, it’s going to be a real struggle to deliver the kinds of affordability and housing options we need.”

The same changes are needed in Victoria to increase affordable housing options. Currently, more than half of the City’s developable land base is limited to single-family homes (see map below), which now average $860,000. By allowing more compact housing types in residential neighborhoods, these policies will more affordable housing development, both market and subsidized units.

Most of Victoria’s residential neighbourhoods are zoned for single-family housing (indicated in yellow in this map) and exclude more compact and affordable housing types.


Compact infill allows affordable housing to be built in walkable urban neighborhoods where transportation costs are low, providing true affordability.

Thank you, Vancouver, for showing the way to more affordable infill!

Affordability Policy

Yes, You Can Build Your Way to Affordability

There are many possible ways to increase affordability. Unfortuanately, one of the most important strategies – increasing total housing supply – is often dismissed as useless. “You can’t build your way to affordability” is repeated so often that many people assume it is true. They are wrong.

In fact, building more housing, including middle-priced units that become more affordable over time, is an effective way to drive down prices and increase affordable housing supply, as discussed in a recent column, Yes, You Can Build Your Way to Affordable Housing. Lessons From Unexpected Places, by Alan Durning of the Sightline Institute. He cites evidence from cities around the world, including Chicago, Houston, Montreal, Tokyo and Vienna, which demonstrate that increasing housing supply increases affordability.

Of course, lower-income households cannot afford new market-priced units, but increasing supply tends to drive down prices through filtering, as some middle-income households move from their existing lower-priced units, making them available, and because new houses tend to depreciate, becoming more affordable over time. If you want more affordable housing in the future, support more development now.

Many affordable housing policy reforms, such as allowing multifamily housing and reduced parking supply in residential neighborhoods, increase both market and non-market (subsidized) housing supply. For example, in areas with high land prices like Victoria, a half-million dollars could typically finance construction of one single-family houses with a two-car garage, two townhouses with one parking space each, or four small apartments with unbundled parking; allowing more townhouses and apartments with unbundled parking increases affordable housing regardless of whether the money is paid by subsidies or occupants.

When it comes to housing, build more, pay less!

Affordability Policy Political Transportation

Toward More Comprehensive and Multimodal Transportation Planning in BC

Cities for Everyone recognizes the importance of affordable transportation options as well as housing options. Although housing is, on average, a larger cost burden, it is also more variable: households in automobile-dependent areas, where every adult owns a personal vehicle, often spent ten times as much on transport as car-free households in walkable urban neighborhoods.

Who is responsible for improving affordable transport options? Local governments are responsible for pedestrian and cycling improvements, and BC Transit is responsible for local transit services, but there is a critical leadership gap for multimodal planning between communities, which makes it difficult for residents to live car-free if they must frequently travel to other areas. Hopefully, this will change.

The new BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure,  MLA Claire Trevena of Northern Vancouver Island, has a mandate to increase affordability and inclusivity, improve rural services, and reduce climate change emissions. The Ministry can do this with more comprehensive and multimodal planning, which recognzies the important roles that walking, cycling and public transit play in an efficient and equitable transportation system.

Below is a letter that I just sent to Minister Trevena, in CfE’s name. Please let us know what you think.

You can send your own letter to:

Honourable Claire Trevena (

Deputy Minister Grant Main (


Honourable Claire Trevena

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure

Parliament Buildings Victoria, British Columbia V8V 1X4

15 September 2017

Re: Toward More Comprehensive and Multimodal Transportation Planning in BC

Dear Minister Trevena,

Congratulations on your recent appointment as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.

I am writing to you as a representative of Cities for Everyone, an independent organization that advocates for more inclusive and affordable housing and transportation policies. I want to identify some ways that MoTI planning practices undervalue investments in affordable transportation options, and ways to correct this. These reforms are consistent with your Mandate Letter which highlights the importance of increasing affordability and inclusivity, improving rural services, and reducing climate change emissions.

An efficient and equitable transportation system must be diverse in order to serve diverse demands, including the mobility needs of people who for any reason rely on non-auto modes. In a typical community, 20-40% of residents cannot, should not or prefer not to drive, and will use non-auto modes (walking, cycling and public transit) if they are convenient and attractive. This is good news overall because those modes tend to be space efficient (they reduce traffic and parking congestion), healthy, energy efficient and low-polluting. Credible research indicates that improving non-auto modes increases traffic safety, public health, economic mobility (the chance that a child raised in poverty will become economically successful as an adult), and regional economic productivity.

MoTI planning practices do a poor job of responding to these demands, resulting in inadequate support for walking, cycling and public transportation. This reflects an old, outdated paradigm which evaluated transport system performance primarily from motorists’ perspective, using indicators such as roadway level-of-service, average congestion delay, and distance-based crash rates (e.g., crash casualties per billion vehicle-kilometers). The old paradigm lacks indicators for non-auto travel conditions, and for overall transportation affordability (total transportation costs borne by households).

Other government agencies support multimodal transport planning: local governments support active transport (walking and cycling), and BC Transit supports local public transit services, but there are critical gaps which only the MoTI can fill. Let me offer three specific examples.

  1. Vancouver Island Bus Service. The MoTI has commissioned several studies examining ways to reduce traffic problems on the Malahat highway. Their terms of reference only consider direct traffic impacts on that stretch of roadway, and so only valued public transit improvements to the degree it would benefit motorists; additional benefits, such as downstream congestion and accident reductions, parking cost savings, improved mobility options for non-drivers, consumer savings and affordability where not considered, although they are certainly important to many transportation system users. More comprehensive and multimodal planning would recognize more potential benefits from improving and encouraging public transportation on this corridor.

Public transport services on that corridor are currently limited: four daily BC Transit trips between Duncan and Victoria timed to serve commuters, plus five, relatively expensive Greyhound trips between Nanaimo and Victoria. Greyhound now plans to reduce this service. Yet, a small fraction of proposed investments to expand the Malahat highway , estimated in 2007 to range from $200 million to $1.5 billion, could finance hourly bus service that would provide true convenience and affordability, and attract more travellers out of cars, reducing congestion and accident risk to motorists.

  1. Victoria to Vancouver Public Transit Service Quality. It is possible, but not very convenient, to travel between Victoria and Vancouver by public transportation. This could be improved with a little coordination between BC Transit, BC Ferries and Translink to provide improved user information and wayfinding, integrated fares (one ticket for a bus, ferry and Skytrain trip), transit tickets sold in ferry gift shops, covered bus waiting areas, prepaid fares allowing quick passenger loading, more frequent and less crowded buses with luggage racks, plus express bus service between Skytrain and Tsawwassan terminals.

Let me offer an example. All buses between Skytrain and Tsawwassan terminals stop at the Ladner Exchange. The payment system requires bus drivers to check fares. Due to these delays passengers must line up more than an hour before ferry departures for a trip that could take less than a half-hour. Express bus service could leave 15 minutes later, saving traveler time and reducing stress. In 2012 the MoTI valued travel time at $15.94/hr/person, or about $20 adjusted for inflation, indicating that 15-minute savings for 100 passengers is worth $500, plus bus operating savings. This could provide a high economic return.

Improving transit service on this corridor will require coordination between BC Transit, BC Ferries and Translink. Providing this coordination is a role for MoTI.

  • Rural Public Transport. Comprehensive and multimodal planning recognizes the travel needs of non-drivers, and therefore the importance of providing public transport services in rural communities. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has an important role to play in supporting such services. Other jurisdictions have effective and cost effective programs to do this, as described in the appendix.

More comprehensive and multimodal transportation planning provides many benefits, including direct benefits to people who use the improved non-auto modes, and indirect benefits to motorists who enjoy reduced traffic and parking congestion, increased safety and reduced chauffeuring burdens. Everybody wins!

However, delivering these will require policy and planning reforms to create a more level playing field between different modes. Fortunately, British Columbia is recognized as a world leader of multimodal planning, with excellent examples in Vancouver, Victoria and even Kamloops, but these innovations have not been fully incorporated into the MoTI. We therefore recommend the following actions for your Ministry to implement more comprehensive and multimodal planning:

  • Apply more comprehensive analysis of transportation investments which recognizes the additional direct and indirect benefits that result from active and public transport improvements, including road and parking facility cost savings (including downstream impacts), consumer savings and affordability, improved mobility for non-drivers, increased safety, improved public fitness and healthy, energy conservation, emission reductions and local economic development.
  • Apply least cost planning, so investments in alternative modes and demand management programs are considered equally with roadway capacity expansions, accounting for all impacts.
  • Establish multimodal performance indicators which measure, not only the ease of traveling by automobile, but also the ease of travel by non-auto modes. Use this to identify travel corridors that lack non-auto travel options.
  • Provide leadership, including planning analysis, funding and interagency coordination, to improve non-auto travel options, both in rural areas that currently lack public transport, and along major urban and intercity travel corridors where public transit service quality (convenience, comfort, speed, frequency and integration) could be better.
  • Sponsor conferences to explore how the MoTI can implement more multimodal planning, and support professional development programs involving Ministry staff and contractors to operationalize those policies and practices.

This is an exciting opportunity to provide more inclusive, affordable, resource efficient, safer, healthier, less polluting and more economically efficient transportation options in our province.


Todd Litman

Cities for Everyone


Appendix – Examples of Rural Public Transit Services

Travel Washington Intercity Bus Program

For many years, Washington State’s intercity bus service was declining, leaving may rural communities without scheduled public transportation to other towns and cities. In response, Washington State created the Travel Washington Intercity Bus Program which contracts with private companies to provide services to many rural communities. It relies largely on Federal grants and so requires minimal state funds. The State Department of Transportation works with communities to design the program and select service providers. Program Manager, Steve Abernathy, says that this approach has garnered strong community support. “When the Gold Line (northeastern Washington) was announced, communities were falling over each other to see who could bring the most to the ribbon cutting.”

Washington Intercity Bus Network 

Washington State supports an intercity bus network that serves rural areas and smaller towns.


The intercity buses connect to local transit services and are catalysts for private investment. Homes, hotels and banks are being developed around transit centers, and their parking lots are sometimes used for farmers’ markets and concerts.  Abernathy describes the program as, “allowing people to stay where they want to live, yet still have the mobility, connections and access to the state, national and international transportation network. It allows older adults to stay in the communities where they have friends, where they raised their children and where they are part of a community.”

Washington State Rural Public Transit

Washington State has several programs to help rural communities plan, coordinate and fund local public transit services. Public transit is provided through government agencies, and community transportation providers which include private non-profit, private for-profit and Tribal organizations. These organizations can access various federal, state and local funds, including voter-approved special taxes. The Washington State Department of Transportation provides administrative and technical assistance to regional transportation planning organizations and public transit service providers.


As a result of these resources, most rural counties in Washington State have coordinated public transit services, which provide travel to and within most communities. For example, it is possible to travel around the Olympic Peninsula, visiting many small communities, Indian reservations and tourist destinations, using the Olympic Transit Loop, which consists of six different but coordinated local public transit agencies, as illustrated below.

Olympic Peninsula Public Transportation

It is possible to circle the Olympic Peninsula and visit most communities using integrated local public transit services.


Rural and Small Town Transit Service Innovations

Many rural areas and small towns are implementing transit service partnerships and management innovations:

  • Some communities offer TaxiBus service: passengers must reserve a ride, and are carried between numerous fixed stop locations in the community by taxis which can pick up other passengers during the same trip.
  • Some small towns offer once- or twice-a-week bus services to regional centers to allow residents to access healthcare services and stores.
  • Some community transportation organizations provide seasonal or special bus services to recreation activities, such as beaches or ski hills, and to special events such as fairs and festivals.
  • Some small towns support vanpooling or commuter bus service to help residents commute to nearby cities.


The Rural Overland Utility Transit

The Rural Overland Utility Transit (TROUT) provides public transport services in eight rural municipalities with approximately 15,000 permanent residents in central Ontario, Canada. It supports various types of transportation services, including scheduled regional routes, door-to-door demand response, special event and charter transport, depending on community needs and resources. The program has a $300,000 total annual budget (about $20 annual per capita), of which $60,000 is generated by fares and $240,000 ($16 per capita) by public subsidies.



The Community Transportation Association of Idaho (CTAI) is a non-profit organization which supports the development of multi-modal transportation services in Idaho communities, including fixed route, demand response and ridesharing services. CTAI helps distribute federal and state funds. Agencies must have a coordinated plan in order to receive these funds. To meet the requirement, the state is divided into 17 local networks that meet to talk about community needs and implementation strategies. The CTAI employs a full-time mobility manager in each of Idaho’s six transportation districts. These managers facilitate the coordinated planning process and bring together key stakeholders, elected officials and leaders from the senior center or agency on aging. Executive director Heather Wheeler explains, “One of the key things the CTAI is doing is trying to bring mobility options to the rural communities so individuals can maintain their rural lifestyle and have access to health care, work, school or other necessary appointments.”


Affordability Policy

Rental Apartments or Condominiums? Which Policy is Best?

Should public policies favor rental apartment or condo development? Cities need both: rentals tend to be cheaper and are best for people who don’t plan to stay long in a community, and condo ownership allows moderate-income households have more control over their housing and build equity.

Why Seattle Builds Apartments, But Vancouver, BC, Builds Condos. Why all those high rises are apartments, by Margaret Morales at the Sightline Institute describes how different public policies affect the types of multifamily housing being built in Seattle and Vancouver. It’s interesting analysis and useful for identifying policy reforms needed to increase affordability for different types of households.

What do you think?

Affordability Policy

Inclusionary Housing Calculator

Inclusionary housing policies require that a certain portion (typically 5-15%) of units in new developments be affordably priced. This is a common tool for increasing affordable housing supply.

However, there are limits to the portion of affordable units that can be required without reducing the number of new units that can be built, and therefore future housing affordability. Don’t kill the golden goose!

The new Inclusionary Housing Calculator can help evaluate development costs and the impacts of various factors, including parking regulations and inclusionary housing policies would have on development profitability in a particular situation. This free tool incorporates various factors including land and construction costs, parking requirements and costs, and market conditions (e.g. strong or soft). The Calculator includes typical default values and can be adjusted by users to reflect a community’s specific circumstances.

This analysis can help policy makers and planners determine how cost burdens, such as inclusionary policies and parking requirements, affect project feasibility. In one example, the Calculator indicated that a large housing project in Chicago could be profitable if regulations required 16% of units to be affordable, but not if this was increased to 21% of units.

Requiring more affordable units than the market can bear tends to reduce the total number of new units built, particularly moderate-priced units. For example, if the cheapest housing units cost $200,000 to build, and regulations require that 10% be priced at $100,000, each of the nine non-qualifying units bears an additional $11,111 ($100,000/9) cost, or about $20,000 including overhead and financing expenses. This is a small increase for high-priced housing (2% for a million dollar unit) but a large increase for lower-priced housing (10% for a $200,000 unit). Since lower-priced tend to be least profitable, they are most likely to be eliminated. In this way, inclusionary zoning tends to reduce production of moderately-priced housing which would become affordable housing in the future.

There is no single best way to create an inclusionary housing policy; such policies should reflect specific local needs and conditions.

Inclusionary Policy Design


Inclusionary requirements are no substitute for development policy reforms that support affordable infill housing development, such as increased allowable densities and reduced parking requirements.