Courtesy of Vancouver Sun - Feb 9, 2010
by Brian Morton

A total of 917 new housing units broke ground in Metro Vancouver in January, about 50 per cent more than the 609 units in the same month in 2009, according to a survey released Monday by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

The survey, which looked at urban centres with more than 10,000 people, found that Surrey led with 296 new housing starts, followed by Vancouver with 234 starts.

B.C.’s numbers were up 84 per cent to 1,699 units comparing the same two months. For Canada as a whole, starts rose 46 per cent to 8,840 units.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate for urban B.C. rose nearly 20 per cent compared to Canada’s 5.8 per cent, the highest level since October 2008.

“Last January [2009], there wasn’t too much going,” Peter Simpson, the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association chief executive officer, said in an interview. “So this big improvement isn’t surprising. We knew it would be higher [and] sales of new homes picked up markedly in the fall. And sales precede new starts.

“Many of our builders are now planning multiple releases of new projects this year. And that’s generated a like number of jobs as well.”

Despite that, Simpson added, there are potential risks later this year with the introduction of the harmonized sales tax and the possibility of higher interest rates.

CMHC senior market analyst Robyn Adamache said stronger new-home construction in January was a continuation of a trend that began in the latter part of 2009 and that the trend is expected to continue through 2010.

“We’re getting back to a decent level of housing starts again,” she said. “Over the past year, we saw quite a rebound in the resale market. That showed builders that demand was picking up again, but it takes a while to get new projects going.

“Also, inventory levels of unsold new homes have been coming down, especially on the single detached side.”

Chris Barbati, a partner with Vancouver-based Mosaic Homes, said business is definitely up for local builders after a tough year.

“[Projects] are way up from a very tough market from the end of 2008 to the first half of 2009. There was a lot of uncertainty and buyers literally disappeared for six months. We held off on a number of projects, but now we’ve put them back on the market.”

Barbati said his company, which primarily builds townhouses, has four new building projects totalling 350 units either underway or slated to begin in the first half of 2010.

Mosaic sales manager Andrea Camp added: “We have much reason for optimism, which is a good thing.”

The CMHC survey concluded that multiple-unit housing showed strength in January with concrete poured for more than 400 apartment homes in the Vancouver census metropolitan area (CMA), including 85 for the rental market.

In Abbotsford, foundations were poured for 26 homes in January, compared to 13 starts in January 2009. In Kelowna, the number of starts rose in January to 161 compared to just 17 in January 2009. In Victoria, starts rose sharply from 30 to 248 in the same months.

Calgary starts rose 112 per cent between January 2009 and January 2010; 55 per cent in Montreal; but dropped six per cent in Toronto.