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Delta going digital for housing

Many jurisdictions still rely on a paper-based application process for new housing developments
The province says that advancing digital permitting and construction is part of the new housing plan Homes for People. Sandor Gyarmati photo

The B.C. government has announced that new homes will be approved faster as the province works with partners to develop a new digital building permit tool, something the City of Delta has already been moving towards.

Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Housing, said they are excited to start working with partners to design and then implement the new digital building permit tool.

Currently, many jurisdictions rely on a paper-based application process for new housing developments that leads to delays and slow approval times.

The province notes that, once completed, the new digital building permit tool will make it faster and simpler for builders and developers to digitally submit building permits for new housing and for local governments to receive and process applications. The tool will also automatically review the submission to ensure it is compliant with key parts of the BC Building Code to prevent any delays with the submission process.

The projects build on the government’s work to digitize the BC Building Code and establish a single-application portal for provincial housing permits and authorizations, which was launched in September 2023, the province notes.

The digital permitting tool is being developed through a pilot partnership between the province, 16 local governments and one First Nations government that will implement it. The tool is expected to begin testing in partnership communities by March 2024, which it will then be expanded into other communities.

Delta is not among the group of 16, but has already been working to actively streamline the application process, including going digital.

In 2021, Delta received a $500,000 grant from the province as part of the Development Approvals Process Review (DAPR) initiative. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs introduced DAPR two years earlier to support local governments in improving development and construction approval processes and timelines, and in accelerating the construction of homes.

Since then, several projects got underway including Delta expanding its digital application (eApply) platform, improving digital tracking and triaging of applications, implementing enhancements within the Application Centre, as well as amending regulatory bylaws and development processes.

A report to council from the planning department this year noted that when it comes to the eApply platform, the city purchased and installed a program, which allows staff to build eApply processes in-house. The goal is to process things like single-detached building permits, all plumbing permits and tree removal permits quicker.

Staff also built and are testing new online applications for sign permits, board of variance, pre-application meetings, heritage conservation grants and residential demolition permits.

Staff are also working toward building more complex eApply processes, including for such applications as rezoning, subdivision and non-residential building permits, with the ultimate goal of having 100 per cent of applications submitted online.

With expanded digitization of application intakes, staff are also working towards building out digital tracking and triaging measures, which will allow for access to complex development and processing data in real time.

Meanwhile, the city last year engaged a consultant to undertake a process review of application intake procedures. Recommendations are being implemented, such as adjusting internal intake procedures, revising application package formats and improving development and building information available to the public.

In late 2022, Delta also launched a parcel information report on DeltaMap, which allows the public to pull a single report with information such as parcel size, zoning, official community plan designations, development permits areas, heritage protection, Agricultural Land Reserve and flood requirements.