B.C. moves to give local governments rental-only zoning power

VICTORIA — B.C. municipalities could soon begin zoning for rental developments only, under legislation introduced by the provincial government Tuesday.

The bill, if passed, would give local governments the power to zone property for rental-only development. Currently, municipalities are unable to make such a designation.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the changes would give local governments the ability to preserve and increase the overall rental supply using local discretion.

“Local governments are on the front lines of the housing crisis and they need solutions that work for them,” she said. “This will prevent rental buildings from being torn down for luxury condos that only a very small number of people can afford.”

The legislation would also empower municipalities to ensure existing rental properties cannot be redeveloped for another use, such as high-priced condos. A local council could designate an entire new building for rental only. Or it could deem just a portion of a new development be required for rental, leaving the remaining mixture of units for sale.

The power would be optional for local governments to use. A municipal council could not use the rental-only clause to override existing strata rules that limit rentals in existing buildings. The zoning would only apply when that property is redeveloped in the future, said Robinson.

“I think it’s a pretty innovative instrument the provincial government is development in the housing realm,” said Andy Yan, program director at Simon Fraser University’s City Program. “This reflects really the request from municipalities for more tools to engage the issue of affordability.”

The Union of B.C. Municipalities called for rental zoning in a January housing committee report. Some urban planners have said it could be a key tool to help maintain and expand the rental stock to help combat slim vacancy rates and high rents. Others have warned such zoning could have unintended consequences and disturb the balance of rental and ownership properties that helps create vibrant neighbourhoods.

“I think it’s another tool we can use,” said Surrey Coun. Vera LeFranc. “It has a lot of possibilities, but it also requires a bit of study.” It will fit well with Surrey’s new affordable housing strategy, which has a rental preservation policy, said LeFranc.

LeFranc said in Surrey an obvious focus could be to designate rental along the future light rapid transit project corridor. “Because we’re moving so quickly with light rapid transit, it might be another opportunity to ensure we have strong rental stock around some of our stations to make sure we have strong ridership,” she said.

In Vancouver, the city is supportive of the proposal, said Dan Garrison, assistant director of planning for housing policy. Currently 53 per cent of Vancouver households are rental, and the city has targets to expand thousands of social, secure and laneway rental housing over the next 10 years to boost the supply to up to 65 per cent, he said.

“We’re interested in as we go to try and generate more new rental supply, but right now the tools municipalities have available to us are quite limited,” said Garrison. A rental-only zoning tool would help preserve stock in key rental neighbourhoods like the West End, Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano, South Granville and Kerrisdale. “Our current tools are limited in our ability to protect them,” he said.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said municipalities such as hers appreciate the new powers because they feel they’ve exhausted available tools to encourage affordable rentals.

There’s no guarantee that rental-only zoning will reduce the high cost of rents, admitted Robinson. The hope is that by increasing supply the prices will begin to fall. “The idea is to get more supply out there and we know when with a greater vacancy rate that will help with some of the costs,” she said.

In Vancouver, where rent for a one-bedroom apartment can easily exceed $2,000, even an increase in supply may not have an immediate impact on prices.

“We do know in the absence of new rental supply those rents are going to increase,” said Garrison. “We really do need to increase the supply of rental housing at a minimum to stabilize or level off the inflation of rents we’ve been seeing in the last number of years. Whether we can bring rents down is an interesting question.”

SFU’s Yan said the zoning does not immediately deal with affordability of rents, or displacement of lower-income tenants. “That’s one of the bigger issues when we talk about zoning is the issue of zoning for non-inclusion and anti-displacement,” he said, noting areas like Burnaby’s Metrotown are suffering from high-end condos displacing affordable rental units. “Purpose-built rental does not necessarily equal affordability.”

Urban Development Institute president Anne McMullin said the development industry does not oppose rental-only zoning but it needs to be used by municipalities to improve the value of land to make it financially feasible to build on the property.

“We don’t want to add too many regulations or restrictions because the rental market is very tenuous,” said McMullin. “We’re able to build it because interest rates are low and, frankly, there’s a zero vacancy rate, so there’s demand and low supply. So the numbers economically work. If you come up with too much disincentive, you can create all the rental zoning you want but if it isn’t economically viable it won’t get built.”

Rental construction also needs a faster approval process, because McMullin said with a construction time of two to three years and an approval process in some municipalities of up to five years it could mean the province is eight years away from new rental supply.

The NDP government also introduced legislation Tuesday that would make it mandatory for real estate developers to collect and report information on pre-sale condo contract assignments. Finance Minister Carole James said the law will penalize developers who do not disclose pre-sale flipping of condo contracts, and will also help capture buyers who are trying to avoid paying certain taxes by using the so-called shadow flipping technique.

A third piece of legislation introduced Tuesday would require local governments to draft local housing needs reports every five years, making them mandatory while developing a regional growth strategy or official community plan. Robinson said the goal is for municipal councils to have the most up-to-date information about their local economy, housing and tourism sectors so that they can make the best choices during planning. The government has set aside $5 million over three years to help municipalities fund the research and planning.


B.C. moves to give local governments rental-only zoning power

Courts Give Rivers “Human Rights” as Unborn Babies Die in Abortions

I don’t quite understand why the news that four rivers in the world, including the Ganges and the Amazon, have been declared by courts to be rights-bearing entities has generated such little reaction. This is no small matter of semantics.

If the current trend continues, “river rights” will exert a tremendously destructive force. The “rights” granted to rivers will be (at least) co-equal to those of humans. Our needs and thriving will be sacrificed to respect the “rights” of geological features. Once again — as happens too often these days — we will have been forced to accede to irrationality that flowing water courses are proper rights-bearers — essentially made to agree (as in the novel 1984) that 2 + 2 = 5.

Rivers’ “rights” will be enforced by radical environmentalists, backed by cadres of trial lawyers, in a campaign funded by rich extremists, aimed at impeding or preventing us from making beneficial use of rivers for all sorts of crucial purposes, ranging from irrigation, to building dams for electricity generation, fishing, and flood control.

You think I worry too much? Judge for yourself. The Earth Law Center, which is very active in the “river rights” cause — which, remember, is succeeding — has published a Universal Declaration of River Rights. From the Declaration:

MOURNING the many rivers across the globe that have already died due to human activities – including those so over-diverted as to no longer flow, those enclosed within pipes and buried under layers of concrete, and those so polluted as to no longer sustain life,

1. Declares that all rivers are entitled to the fundamental rights set forth in this Declaration, which arise from their very existence on our shared planet,

2. Further declares that all rivers are living entities that possess legal standing in a court of law,

3. Establishes that all rivers shall possess, at minimum, the following fundamental rights:
(1) The right to flow;
(2) The right to perform essential functions within its ecosystem;
(3) The right to be free from pollution;
(4) The right to feed and be fed by sustainable aquifers;
(5) The right to native biodiversity; and
(6) The right to restoration,

4. Further establishes that rivers shall have their best interests assessed and taken into account as a primary consideration by both government and private entities in all actions or decisions that concern them…

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5. Maintains that in order to ensure full implementation and enforcement of these rights, each river shall be entitled to the independent appointment of one or more legal guardians that acts solely on behalf of the river’s rights, with at least one legal guardian being an indigenous representative for those rivers upon which indigenous communities depend.

Anyone who can’t see the tremendous harm of that committed radicals, appointed as river “guardians,” can force upon public policy and private actors required to take “into account as a primary consideration” a river’s supposed “best interests,” doesn’t want to look.

Kind of gives the song “Old Man River” a new meaning, doesn’t it?

Oh yea: The Earth Law Center will soon launch an “ocean rights” project. Remember, it only takes one judge…

LifeNews.com Note: Wesley J. Smith, J.D., is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture and a bioethics attorney who blogs at Human Exeptionalism.



Alcohol Drinkers Have More Bad Bacteria In Their Mouths, According To New Study

Drinking alcohol may do more than just damage the liver — it may mangle with the balance of good and bad bacteria in one’s mouth, which in turn could yield other more pressing consequences than just bad breath.

A person’s mouth typically contains 700 types of bacteria, a mixture of good and bad ones, but people who drank one or more alcoholic beverages per day have more bad bacteria than good, a new study has discovered.

Too much bad bacteria in the mouth is known to be linked to gum disease, heart problems, and even some types of cancers.

“This is the first comprehensive study of alcohol intake on oral microbiome,” said Jiyoung Ahn, the study’s senior investigator and an epidemiologist at the New York University’s School of Medicine. The findings were published in the Microbiome journal on April 23, and it might explain why people who drink more die younger than people who drink less.

“My report provides another scientific rationale for avoiding excessive alcohol drinking,” Ahn told NBC News.

What Drinking Alcohol Does To Your Mouth

Drinking alcohol, the study claims, kills many good bacteria and causes many types of bad ones to flourish in the mouth. Such imbalances contribute to alcohol-related diseases including periodontal disease, head and neck cancer, and digestive tract cancers.

The team tested 1,044 healthy folks between the ages of 55 and 87. Of those, 270 didn’t drink, 614 drank moderately, and 160 drank heavily. They all gave the team spit samples along with information about their diet, drinking habits, and lifestyle.

Ahn and her team of researchers tested the samples to check the oral bacteria levels and saw that the drinkers had more Bacteroidales, Actinomyces, and Neisseria — harmful species of bacteria, some of which cause periodontal disease, while others kill off good bacteria. These people also had lower levels of Lactobacillales — beneficial for gum health — compared to those who didn’t drink.

The researchers note that while their study included a large number of people, they would still need to study even more to assess microbiome differences among those who consumed only wine, beer, or other types of alcoholic beverages.

What About Wine, Beer, And Others?

The next step, according to Ahn, is to work out the biological mechanisms behind alcohol’s effects on the oral microbiome. Also, she stressed that the work is still a long way from determining if blocking or promoting certain changes in the microbiome would lead to healthy bacteria levels such as those found in people who don’t drink.

It remains unclear what part of drinking alcohol causes oral bacterial imbalance and whether drinking does kill off good bacteria or simply allows bad ones to flourish. At present, there is merely a link discovered between drinking and oral bacteria, and the researchers would need to perform more experiments to establish cause and effect.