Homebuilding down only 9% despite pandemic; single-family starts on rise

Driven by pent-up demand, the region’s homebuilders have maintained a strong pace through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Figures released Thursday by CMHC show 2,347 new homes were started around the region through the first three fiscal quarters of 2020, down from 2,569 recorded through the end of September last year.

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“We are still reasonably good. Compared with last year, we are only down nine per cent overall,” said Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association.

Edge said the region is even ahead of the historical norm. Since the early 1970s, the average number of housing starts in a full year is 2,276.

The bulk of the construction has been on the West Shore, with Langford leading the way so far this year with 885 new homes started, down from the 990 it had recorded by this time last year. Victoria has started 177 homes so far this year, down from 520 in 2019.

Edge said given that interest rates are expected to remain at historically low levels — a critical factor when it comes to housing affordability — there is reason for optimism.

“I think we have got through the worst of it and, as long as the rest of the economy can recover, particularly when it comes to keeping jobs, we should be OK,” he said. “We anticipate the economy will strengthen, so the numbers shouldn’t change that dramatically in terms of housing starts.”

While in recent years, multi-family construction has been dominant, the number of single-family homes being built is increasing as a percentage of total new starts, Edge said, suggesting that could be the result of people working from home and needing more space.

So far this year, 518 single-family homes have been started, up from 472 at the same time last year. There are currently 674 single-family homes under construction in the region.

One factor that could affect the homebuilding industry is the B.C. Liberals’ promise to temporarily axe the provincial sales tax if they form government, Edge said. “That can represent thousands of dollars and some significant savings, especially for people trying to get into the market.”

Edge said a strong home- construction industry translates into a strong regional economy. “There are so many downstream benefits of homebuilding, from furnishings and trades to all kinds of services,” he said. “It’s huge, and to be only down nine per cent this year is a big deal.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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