Construction labour shortage a massive barrier to B.C.’s new housing: experts

Even with good intentions, appropriate funding and expedited permitting processes, there simply aren’t enough construction tradespeople to build all the homes required to meet B.C.'s housing targets, according to a group of industry experts.

Speaking to a huge audience at the Vancouver Real Estate Forum April 25 at the Vancouver Convention Centre, at a panel event on housing affordability, Concert Properties CEO and panel moderator Brian McCauley raised the issue of labour shortages as a key barrier to meeting the NDP government’s target of 114,000 affordable homes in 10 years.

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McCauley said, “You hear on a daily basis about labour shortages, escalating construction costs… Just the provincial government program alone, wanting to build 114,000 affordable homes in the next 10 years, would require double the output of the current infrastructure in the building industry… We can’t ignore the fact that we just don’t have the capacity to build housing as fast as we need to.”

Greg Moore, Mayor of Port Coquitlam and chair of Metro Vancouver Board of Directors, replied, “You nailed it, and I think it’s going to get worse going forward [when you factor in other major infrastructure projects]… There’s a huge issue there for all of us. Whether we’re building infrastructure for our communities or housing in our communities, [the labour shortage] is one of the major issues we should be discussing.”

Anne McMullin, president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute, added, “In our discussions with the B.C. government since the provincial budget came out, I don’t think there’s really that recognition. Exactly how are we going to build this? We keep saying… let alone getting approvals, how are we going to get this done? The development industry needs to address this, but also the provincial government needs to address this, whether it’s with training or recruitment.”

Luke Harrison, CEO of the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency, said, “I’ll get my plug in for prefabrication… We’re seeing some interesting results. When you look at what we’re doing with modular housing [for Vancouver], our labour costs are in Kamloops, our supply costs are independent of the weather and other potential cost issues in a local market. It also helps on the design side – you don’t have to customize a wall assembly through engineers and architects every time, that common wall is being replicated over and over again. I think that this is one of the opportunities that we’re going to have to spend more time on if we’re going to get close to the housing supply.”

McCauley replied, “You’re absolutely right. Our industry are dinosaurs in terms of advancement in technology and new building techniques. I’ve learned something: that if I come to the City of Vancouver with a ‘temporary’ housing application, I can get it approved a lot faster.”

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