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 B.C. municipalities 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
  • Build additional bonus density or floor space in exchange for a contribution back to the local government

Contributions can either be a developer-provided amenity (e.g. a specific number of affordable housing units or energy efficient building features that reduce occupancy costs) or funding that the local government can use towards a community amenity.

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.

Inclusionary Zoning

These zoning regulations require the inclusion of affordable housing in new housing developments. This is usually done through a rezoning process which requires an applicant to provide some contribution towards affordable housing. The contribution can be a specified percentage or number of affordable housing units in the new development or on a different site, or cash-in-lieu to be used for affordable housing.

A system is required to administer the rental or sale of the units and to ensure that the units remain affordable over time – often through a housing agreement. A housing agreement is a voluntary agreement between property owners and local governments to govern the occupancy of housing. Housing agreements address things like whether the units will be rented or owned, who will live in the units, housing costs, etc.

Mid-Size Community Example: The City of Langford has an affordable housing program based on inclusionary zoning. Developers of new subdivisions are required to build one affordable home for every 10 single-family lots subdivided. In partnership with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the City assists developers by providing free administrative support, density bonuses and streamlined development approvals as incentives. Local realtors provide services free of charge, while credit unions, mortgage brokers and insurers (including CMHC) streamline mortgage pre-approvals.