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Calgary breaks all-time record in housing starts but increasing demand keeps inventory low

Soaring housing demands in Calgary led to an all-time record for new residential builds last year, but inventory levels of completed and unsold units remained low due to demand outpacing supply.

According to the latest report from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), total housing starts increased by 13 per cent in Calgary, reaching a total of 19,579 units with growth across all dwelling types in the city.

That compares to a decline of 0.5 per cent overall for housing starts in the six major Canadian cities surveyed by CMHC.

Calgary also had the highest housing starts by population.

“Part of the reason why we think that might have happened is that developers are responding to low vacancies in the rental market,” said Adebola Omosola, a housing economics specialist with CMHC.

“The population of Calgary is still growing, a record number of people moved here last year, and we still expect that to remain at least in the short term.”

Earlier this year, the Calgary Real Estate Board also predicted that demand, especially for rental apartments, wouldn’t let up any time soon. 

Industry can cope with demand, expert says

According to numbers from the report, average construction times were higher in 2023 for all dwelling types except for apartments.

The agency’s report suggests the increase in the number of under-construction residential projects might mean builders are operating at or near full capacity.

However, there’s optimism the construction industry can match the increasing need.

Brian Hahn, CEO of BILD Calgary Region, said despite concerns around about construction costs, project timelines and labour shortages, the industry has kept up with the demand for new builds.

Demand is expected to remain robust, but the construction industry can keep up, according to BILD Calgary region CEO Brian Hahn.
Demand is expected to remain robust, but the construction industry can keep up, according to BILD Calgary Region chief executive officer Brian Hahn. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

“I’ve heard that kind of conversation at the end of 2022 and I heard it in 2023,” Hahn said.

“Yet here we are early in 2024, and January and February were record numbers again.”

Hahn added he believes the current pace of construction will continue for at least the next six months and that the industry is looking at initiatives to attract more people to the trades.

Increase in row house and apartment construction

Construction growth was largely driven by new apartment projects, making up almost half of the housing starts in Calgary in 2023.

The federal housing agency says 9,034 apartment units were started that year, an increase of 17 per cent from the previous year. Of those, about 54 per cent were purpose-built rentals.

Apartments made up around two-thirds of all units under construction, CMHC said, with the total number of units under construction reaching 23,473.

Growth, however, was seen across all dwelling types. Row homes increased by 34 per cent from the previous year while groundbreaking on single-detached homes grew by two per cent.

“Notwithstanding challenges, our members and the industry counterparts that support them managed to produce a record amount of starts and completions,” Hahn said.

“I have little doubt that the industry will do their very best to keep pace at those levels.”

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