Number of new homes built in Greater Victoria holds steady in 2020 despite pandemic

Homebuilding in Greater Victoria isn’t taking much of a break during the pandemic, according to year-end figures released Monday by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

The national housing agency reported 3,209 new homes were started last year, down from 3,499 in 2019.

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“There was not much out of the ordinary last year,” said CMHC market analyst Pershing Sun. “In general, the market rebounded really quickly in all segments.”

Like most sectors, the homebuilding industry was thrown for a loop with the onset of the pandemic in March, but didn’t really skip a beat when construction sites restarted following the spring lockdown.

The result was an increase in the number of single-family homes started last year and a drop in the number of multi-family units.

In total, the region saw 694 new single-family homes started in 2020, up from 638 in 2019, and 2,071 new multi-family units, down from 2,540 in 2019.

“The share of single-family homes starts is higher compared to the last two years,” said Sun, noting that segment of housing represented a 22 per cent share of all starts, putting it on par with 2017.

Sun suggested the slight increase in that segment is down to demand and a hot real estate market hungry for inventory.

As for the drop in multi-family units, a combination of factors is likely at play ranging from the high number of active job sites, shortage of skilled trades, cost of development, the time it takes to get projects approved and the maze of regulation that needs to be conquered.

Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association, said the pace of building and the high cost is dictated by the region’s various councils.

He said some, like Langford, have made it straightforward, while others like Saanich can drag out the process.

“That has a significant impact,” he said, noting Langford once again led the way last year with 1,101 new starts. “It’s why we so so much development on the West Shore, they have created more certainty and a more reasonable application process.”

He said Esquimalt has been more open to business of late and last year saw 303 new homes started, up from 223 in 2019.

Victoria, which has seen significant multi-family projects started in the last several years, dropped to 330 starts last year, down from 668 in 2019, and Saanich saw 200 starts in 2020 down from 203 the previous year.

Edge said the expectation for 2021 is another strong year with as many as 3,200 new starts.

He said demand remains high, interest rates are expected to remain at historic lows and the economy is likely to find some recovery in 2021.

“We are hoping for a similar year this year,” he said.

Sun agreed, noting demand is definitely growing, especially for single-family homes.

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