Zoning for housing

Zoning can be used as a tool to influence how a community changes and grows and to increase housing affordability.

Zoning is the practice of dividing land into different areas, or zones, according to how the land can be used. It can also regulate the types of buildings that are permitted, their height and location on the property, their appearance, and other characteristics. 

Land can be zoned for many uses such as housing, retail, industry, transportation, or recreation. Typically, local governments have developed quite complex zoning for their communities. Residential uses alone might require many different zones, each one permitting slightly different types of housing.

Density bonus zoning bylaws

The Local Government Act allows local governments in B.C. to exchange bonus density for amenities or affordable housing by including density bonus provisions in their zoning bylaw. Local governments may also develop density bonus policies.

A density bonus model is a voluntary system of exchange between a local government and land developers. A land developer can choose to either:

  • develop to the permitted base density with no additional contribution required; or
  • build additional bonus density or floor space in exchange for a contribution back to the local government.

Contributions can be:

  • a specific number of affordable housing units;
  • a developer-provided amenity (e.g. energy-efficient building features that reduce costs for occupants); or
  • funding that the local government can use towards amenities or affordable or special needs housing.

Here are a few examples:

Mid-size community

The City of New Westminster has developed a density bonus zoning system in which 30% of revenues are allocated towards affordable housing.

Large community

The City of Abbotsford has a density bonus policy implemented through its zoning bylaw. The policy is entirely voluntary for both the City and developers. Bonus contributions are used for affordable housing, either in the form of affordable units or a cash-in-lieu payment into a fund.

Large community

The City of Burnaby has a Community Benefit Bonus Policy (PDF) for Affordable Housing and Amenities in Town Centre Areas.

The policy provides a framework – implemented through the zoning bylaw – for developers to achieve extra development density in return for providing a community benefit that meets the social, cultural, recreational or environmental needs of people living and working in Burnaby.

The content on this website is periodically reviewed and updated by the Province of British Columbia as per the date noted on each page: February 13, 2018.