City of Vancouver's red tape inflating housing prices

You have to give realtor Keith Roy points for originality. Knowing a thing or two about marketing and self-promotion in today’s sizzling Vancouver real estate market is how you will break into the tiny circle of top-sellers of detached homes.

Roy’s latest brainchild may have just raised the bar among his peers. It is a website called, a blog diary of building a new home on a typical East Vancouver lot just off Main Street.

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One of his stated objectives is to know “how much the new 2015 City of Vancouver building bylaw really costs.”

What readers will discover, however, is how frustrating, stressful and incredibly costly it is for a citizen to keep with the demands of Vancouver city hall.

At times Roy’s experiences sound positively Kafkaesque — like, for example, when he describes in his blog figuring out the city’s requirement for a shower installation on his new home’s main floor: “[The clerk] walked about three desks away and starting chatting with another guy. After about a minute, the two of them got up and walked over to a third guy. Now, Clerk, Code Guy and Third Guy are standing around my plans making marks and debating the shower requirements.”

Confounded by the delays, Roy writes he called over to them. “Am I the first person to build a house in the City of Vancouver this year?”

Vancouver’s new bylaws surrounding tree removals take red tape to even more bizarre levels, according to Roy’s blog.

“It is going to cost me between $561 to $650 to get permission to remove a stump and a dead pear tree from the land that I own. This is not the cost of removing the trees.

That is a separate bill. This is just the permission to remove the trees.”

At this point most of us will be ambivalent about Roy’s experiences. It costs money to build a house and navigating the city’s requirements goes with the territory, after all.

However, should we ask how these kinds of experiences affect the rest of us who rent, renovate our property, or do business in Vancouver?

Thanks to the persistence of some advocacy groups and the political leaders who listen to them, some of Canada’s governments at the federal, provincial and municipal levels are attempting to streamline regulations, while putting more onus on good customer service.

The City of Vancouver seems to signal that this is not a political or organizational priority. An aide in the Mayor’s office often uses his Twitter account to mock calls for cutting municipal red tape, although it is not clear if his boss is similarly hostile to the idea.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget, in its 2014 Information Collection Budget of the U.S. Government, estimates that in 2013 it took citizens 9.453 billion hours to complete the paperwork requirements of a selection of government agencies. That amounts to more than 13,000 average human lifetimes!

In Canada, regulatory burden is estimated to be even greater on a per capita basis.

Reducing red tape is neither a right nor a left wing hobbyhorse. The evidence shows the issue transcends politics, though the ideas on how to resolve it are split.

Some call for more private sector involvement, others call for more training and incentives to help public servants.

Either way, at least there is an admission of a problem elsewhere, if not in Vancouver itself.

But you know the issue of red tape is critical at Vancouver city hall when the manager in charge of it loses her $137,000 annual salary position after doing minor renovations on her home without a building permit. Carli Edwards, whose job was to uphold Vancouver’s building bylaw, resigned under a cloud last December.

Her boss, city manager Penny Ballem, sent a strong signal to staff that bending the rules would not stand. Instead, it should have been an aha! moment that reforms are desperately needed.

For whatever reason, a January 2012 motion passed unanimously by city council to “Improve the Efficiency of the Permit Process at City Hall,” has never been fully acted upon.

Even the Mayor’s 2012 Housing Affordability Task Force report paid lip service to the need to streamline decision-making at city hall.

Perhaps a realtor’s humble blog will be the catalyst for city hall reforms that will go a long way to make Vancouver housing more affordable.


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