Building permits up sharply in B.C., StatsCan analysts say

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Brian Morton

B.C. recorded the largest increase in building permit values in the country in December, according to a Statistics Canada survey released Thursday.

A strong residential sector was cited as the main reason in the report, which concluded that B.C. saw a 147-per-cent increase in all building permits issued in December 2009 compared to December 2008, for a total value of $884 million, and a huge 256-per-cent increase in residential permit values to $666 million.

“In the past few months, it’s been picking up,” StatsCan analyst Nicole Charron said in an interview. “Interest rates are low and people are feeling more confident. The Olympics have also changed things a bit in B.C. [This] is a sign that things are improving.”

Tsur Somerville, director of the Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate at the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business, said that the results aren’t surprising.

“We had a striking and quick recovery from our downturn. Unlike Ontario and Quebec, we aren’t hindered by conditions in the financial sector and automobiles and manufacturing.”

Somerville also said B.C.’s building industry did a good job of slowing things down during the recession. “As a result, we weren’t hindered by a large inventory of unsold units or where buyers backed out of their contracts.”

StatsCan noted in its survey that Canada recorded a 33-per-cent increase in permit values last December from the same month in 2008, for a total value of $6.2 billion and a 47-per-cent increase in residential values to $3.88 billion.

B.C. recorded a 12.9-per-cent increase in overall values from November to December last year and a 22.8-per-cent increase in residential permit values over the same period.

As well, non-residential permit values in B.C. rose 28.2 per cent year over year to $218 million, but dropped 9.4 per cent from November to December 2009. For Canada, virtually all growth from November to December was in the non-residential segment.

Charron said permits issued for multiples (apartments and townhouses) showed the strongest growth in B.C. “In December 2008, multiples were very low, about $43.5 million. It was $320 million in December 2009. “

Keith Sashaw, president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, said building permit values are the highest since June 2008. Sashaw expects residential activity to remain strong until the summer because of pent-up market demand and low interest rates.

Sashaw noted that overall permit values for 2009 in the Lower Mainland-southwest region were down 31 per cent compared to 2008, to $4.4 billion, the lowest level of permit activity in the region since 2003.

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