If you’re a resident from British Columbia, you might have had one or two long drives around the Lower Mainland region and wondered about the long stretches of unoccupied land you’re driving past. “What’s up with those?” you might ask. There’s a fair probability that what you’ve been looking at are Agricultural Land Reserves or ALR. Here’s what ALR means to the development of your community.

ALR Land in Canada

ALR: A Brief History

Agriculture Land Reserves had been implemented during the 1970s when the National Democratic Party won in British Columbia. This was during a time when issues about food security and affordable housing where hot on the pan of political and social concerns. The NDP set aside acres upon acres of land in British Columbia for food production and other agricultural uses.

Until now, the ALR are still implemented and maintain a whopping 95% popularity among voters, according to a 2017 province-wide poll cited in an ENM Construction Management article. Since its inception in 1973, ALR keep clear 4.7 million acres of land, or 5% of the British Columbian land base.

The catch, however, is this: NDP rose to power in the 70s mainly because of their stance in affordable housing. Undeniably, land is important to implement projects like social or affordable housing. Some lobbyists argue that parcels of land under the ALR must be released to the market because they are not arable or agriculturally viable, and must be repurposed to boost the economy.

ALR and Affordable Housing

While the debate on the review of Agricultural Land Reserves is multi-sectoral; environmentalists, land developers, social workers, and politicians are all putting in their two cents (or ten) in the conversation, we will focus on the role of ALR to the development of affordable or social housing.

Here are some points that should be considered:

  • Half of the British Columbia’s ALR is lying unused.
    According to a study conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems of Kwantlen University, about 50% of the ALR land is lying unused. According to the authors, protection is not enough. Rather, the agricultural viability of the land must be maintained. One of the problems cited by the paper is that pressure driven by land exclusions have ratcheted up prices of viable farm lands that farmers can’t buy it, and consequently, can’t produce from it.
  • 30,000 acres of the ALR are arid.
    According to a Vancity study cited by an ENM Construction Management article, a considerable 30,000 acres of the ALR are arid. This means that these pockets of land are so dry or lacking of water sources to be considered of agricultural or productivity value.
  • Most land sales are made by investors, not farmers.
    According to the Times Colonist, 73 out of the 122 land sales in Metro Vancouver were completed by investors, instead of farmers due to the rising prices of farmable lands, some of which are held back exclusively by land developers. The report suggests that the government should consider adding ownership restrictions on farmable lands. That land from ALR must be sold only to individuals or entities who have that intention and ability to farm. Another suggestion is to consider additional taxes to pressure people who are using agricultural land for residential and other purposes in order to return the land to agricultural purposes.
  • Release arid land for affordable housing.
    One option, according to Daniel Greenhalgh of ENM Construction Management, is to take portions of land from ALR zones that are arid and no longer agriculturally viable, and turn them into social housing projects. This way, middle-income residents of British Columbia can also benefit from the ALR. This could solve the shortage of affordable housing being experienced in Canada.

It is undeniable that ALRs should be reviewed—not only policy-wise, but also the viability of the land included in the ALR zone. The science-based and informed allocations of land in British Columbia can solve not only concerns on food security, but on the social needs of BC Canadians as well.

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