Forced green renos could make living in Vancouver more expensive

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Plan put to council could add to soaring costs for Vancouver homeowners

Lena Sin

Forcing Vancouver homeowners to do green upgrades as a condition of getting a home-renovation permit could backfire, critics caution.

The idea was brought forward to city council Tuesday as a “priority action” by the Greenest City Action Team.

“Requiring efficiency upgrades as a permit condition for renovations” was one of six priority recommendations the team wants council to adopt in a bid to make Vancouver more environmentally friendly.

But critics warn that forced green upgrades could making living in Vancouver more expensive — at a time when housing and property taxes are already soaring.

“Trying to force people to add unaffordable upgrades to their homes could backfire. At a time when property taxes are skyrocketing, the last thing the City of Vancouver should be doing is making home ownership even less affordable,” said Maureen Bader of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The specifics of how the proposal would work — and what the associated costs would be — are still unclear, since city staff is just beginning to look at the issue.

The proposal, which would amend the existing building bylaw, will target single-family homes and duplexes.

David Ramslie, the city’s sustainable-development program manager, said generally the required efficiency upgrades will be tied to the nature of the renovation and will be as affordable as possible.

The city is aiming to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by about 30 per cent by 2020, so energy-efficiency upgrades on heating and hot-water systems will be key areas targeted, Ramslie said.

Water conservation will also be a guiding principle. For example, a condition of issuing a permit for a bathroom renovation may be installation of a low-flow toilet, he said.

“Our key priority is to start with modest requirements that will not only help us combat against climate change, but will be very affordable — and in the long term pay for themselves in a very short order,” Ramslie said.

City staff will now compile a list of renovations and associated green upgrades that will be required as a condition of getting a permit.

Peter Simpson, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, said the proposed bylaw amendment must not make renovations unaffordable, since that could drive homeowners to work with underground contractors in a bid to avoid getting permits.

“If they make it too prescriptive, people will go to the underground industry,” said Simpson.

NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton echoed similar concerns, saying a bylaw amendment must not deter people from doing renovations or, alternatively, drive homeowners to do renovations without permits.

“I wouldn’t just say an outright no, that it’s a bad idea, but I think the city would have to proceed extremely cautiously,” said Anton.

The action team is a volunteer group put together by Mayor Gregor Robertson, whose election platform included making Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020. Its mandate is to recommend measures to improve the city’s environmental performance.

A stakeholder meeting with contractors and renovators will be held Oct. 7, followed by public consultations. A staff report is not expected to be submitted to city council until the end of the year.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Comments are closed.