B.C. building permit values soar to new high

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Metro Vancouver recorded a 78-per-cent increase over last year, but fears of a fallback remain

Brian Morton

B.C. has recorded one of the country’s largest increases in the value of building permits over the past year, according to a Statistics Canada report released Tuesday.

The province posted a 53-per-cent increase in May compared with May 2009, to $754 million from $494 million. That included an 11.9-per-cent increase since April 2010.

At the national level, Canada as a whole recorded a 13.9-per-cent increase in values to $5.98 billion from May 2009, as well as a 10.8-percent decrease since April. The decline from April follows two consecutive monthly increases.

All numbers are seasonally adjusted.

Only Prince Edward Island saw a higher percentage increase than B.C. in the value of residential and nonresidential permits since May 2009.

In a separate survey of census metropolitan areas, Metro Vancouver recorded a 78-per-cent increase in building permit values in May over May 2009 to $448 million from $252 million. That included a 28.5-per-cent increase since April.

Abbotsford-Mission recorded a 199-per-cent increase in May compared to May 2009, to $20.8 million from $6.9 million, including a 99-percent increase since April.

Peter Simpson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association (GVHBA), said in an interview that the numbers don’t surprise him although builders are giving him mixed signals.

“Every region [in Metro Vancouver] has recorded increases in housing starts in the January to May period over the same period last year.

“Some are finding [activity] has slowed down, while others have a lot of confidence in the market, finishing existing projects and very interested in launching new ones.”

Simpson said that housing activity has increased over the past few months, although it’s set against 2009, a particularly poor year for starts.

“We’re not dancing in the streets with these [housing starts] numbers, but it is an improvement.”

“If both residential and non-residential are improving, that bodes well for job creation and it’s a positive sign for the economy overall.

“One of our builders delivered a record 52 single-family homes in June.”

Keith Sashaw, president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, agreed that the increase in building permit values in the Metro Vancouver-Southwest region from April to May looks good.

“May building-permit values reached the second highest monthly total so far this year,” said Sashaw. “Public or institutional-government permits hit their highest level this year and the third highest since March 2006.”

However, Sashaw also said that May’s jump in permits is a spike “and we may see a slight fallback in June.”

“The underlying trend remains level for the local construction sector, though some softness is coming in the residential and government sectors with declining housing sales and the ending of stimulus plans.”

He said total building-permit values in the region are up 63 per cent to $2.1 billion in the first five months of 2010, compared with $1.3 billion in the same period last year.

Despite the positive numbers, a Statistics Canada analyst said B.C.’s results shouldn’t be seen as dramatically better than the rest of the country, because the province’s construction industry was struggling in May 2009 in terms of overall building-permit values.

“In May 2009, B.C. was [near] a low point, while some other provinces had low points at different times,” Nicole Charron said in an interview. “So it’s comparing [B. C.’s building permit values] to one of its lowest points.”

However, Charron also said that B.C.’s non-residential sector has shown considerable strength in recent months, including a 37-per-cent increase in permit values since April 2010 compared with 1.9 per cent on the residential side.

She said that while B.C. recorded a hike in educational building construction, the non-residential sector also includes “hospitals, retirement homes, libraries, any type of government building.”

The residential side reflected particular strength in multi-family construction, she added.

In B.C., residential construction was the stronger of the two sectors from May 2009 to May 2010, recording an 81-per-cent increase in values to $489 million. That compared with an 18.4-per-cent increase in non-residential to $265 million.

While Victoria also saw a 41-percent increase in values from May 2009 to $64 million, including 19.5 per cent since April, it was different in Kelowna, which saw a 16-per-cent drop in the value of permits since May 2009 to $32.3 million. Kelowna also saw a 10-per-cent drop in permit values from April 2010 to May 2010.

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