Getting more affordable townhomes to market – What would it really take?

A recent report, Getting to Goundbreaking (G2G), was produced by the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association (GVHBA) in partnership with the Urban Development Institute and Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies department.

The report examines the residential building approval process for a townhome development to: compare differences and similarities; identify best practices among municipalities and home builders; and, uncover ways to reduce unnecessary time and cost in residential approvals.

What G2G doesn’t do is look at the continuing inefficiencies and waste in the building process itself that consistently yield defective, sub-standard homes for home buyers. Neither does it look at manufacturing homes off-site in more sustainable environments to substantially reduce costs and lead times.

In my opinion, this report is misguided, and to help retain the usual poor industry practices, it looks at symptoms. It is nothing more than a part of a pre-emptive tactic for developers and builders to take yet another run at reducing the regulations, costs and time, involved in the municipal approval process.

Any industry navel gazing needs to be focused in it’s own backyard, and specifically, on an existing and unsustainable business model. To define problems the right questions need to be asked, like, “Why does this industry require new home warranty insurance programs in the first place?”

The industry has redefined its own definitions for quality standards and defects, and now distance themselves from consumer’s expectations. While every other industry in the world works to exacting quality standards, and quickly eliminates the cause of defects at the source, the building industry works within an antiquated system relying on a building code. For decades the building code has allowed builders to work to something called a minimum standard, and like sloppy drunks, they have completely failed to meet the sobriety test.

On the subject of warranty, the industry has spent millions lobbying for reduced liability, which it achieved with the support of government. Yes, consumer protection has been slowly deteriorating and governments at every level have given favour to the industry.

The Homeowner Protection Act (HPA) is not! At the top level, the HPA has conflicting purposes. If the act is to protect BC consumers as the name suggests, why hasn’t it? How has the strengthening of consumer protection been measured and reported the past decade?

The dual purpose of the HPA allows the government to slyly fund or sponsor initiatives for the builder’s, e.g., the self-ingratiating “Georgie Awards”. The so called “winners” were not measured on, improved quality, zero defects, six sigma, etc. In fact the basic high-level HPA purpose is “to improve the quality of residential construction” but how exactly was the improved “quality” measured and publicly reported by the government appointed board of industry reps?

Unfortunately there is absolutely no real accountability whatsoever!

The Homeowner Protection Office (HPO) is not either! What are the tangible results for new home buyers from having the HPO in place since 1999? What has the value for money been to consumers in BC? The HPO has done nothing to quantify the cost of poor quality, and the consumer surveys conducted are useless.

Until sweeping changes are made to the current business model used by developers and builders, consumer confidence will continue declining for the industry, the HPA and HPO; in fact the latter has laughably been known as the Homebuilder Protection Office since shortly after it opened its doors.

While it is understood the purpose of the G2G report was to examine the residential building approval process, it is the building process itself that needs to be examined, and where most is to be gained.

Government needs to intervene and start actually protecting homeowners by mandating changes, including stopping their rich re-election campaign donations from the very industries involved in any aspect (insurance, finance, etc.) of homebuilding.

The business model used by developers and builders is decrepit and severely in need of a massive overhaul. Recognizing the importance of the industry to the economy is one thing, but the sustained inability to improve performance and consumer protection, needs to finally be addressed.

Any more calls from developers, builders and their cohorts for changes to the way others do business need to be ignored until they’ve cleaned up their own back yard.


Getting More Affordable Townhomes To Market

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