As you’ll read in today’s paper, there has been a decline in construction activity in Brandon over the past two years.
Since 2011, the value of building permits issued here has slid from $153.3 million down to just $112.9 million over the course of 2013.
Partly, that can be explained by the fact that we’re now enjoying our brand-new police station and fire hall, and that hundreds of people are crowding into the new Dood Cristall YMCA and Brandon University’s Healthy Living Centre. Millions have also been poured into our wastewater treatment plant.
Investments like those are not everyday things —we will be able to use them for decades —and although they helped boost construction numbers in this city for the past couple of years, it’s unreasonable to expect projects like that to happen every year.
Still, builders haven’t been sitting idle with the lack of similar big projects.
Instead, they seem to have been turning their hammers to homebuilding.
Although the total value of construction is down more than 25 per cent over the past two years, the number of dwelling units on the go has been on a steady rise. In 2013, city numbers show that builders began construction of 437 houses, apartments, condos and the like. That’s quite a bit more than the 376 from the year before and even more than the 341 from the year before that.
In total, more than 1,150 new dwelling units have been started since 2011.
That’s excellent news for a growing city, which continues to have a very low vacancy rate.
Many people dismiss housing construction in Brandon as only focused on McMansions in south-end sprawl. But we note that there are plenty of condos and rental buildings going up as well.
In fact, one of the big-ticket items that got underway last month was a 24-unit apartment building on First Street North.
And even the people moving into those sometimes-maligned mega-homes are often moving out of a smaller starter home or suite, which leaves behind a vacancy for someone else.
In oversimplified economics terms, builders are adding supply to meet demand — all that additional housing stock helps keep a lid on prices, making homes more affordable for everyone.
Of course, affordable can be a relative term. As defined by the city, an “affordable” condominium or detached house must sell for 15 per cent less than the most recent annual median price in Brandon. That would mean a house or a condo worth nearly $200,000 still counts as affordable.
(Let us take a moment here to point out that $200,000 is also the amount the city uses to define the “average” home value in Brandon as it tries to sell us on the tax hikes in their budget. Right hand should speak to left hand.)
Mind you, however you define affordability, the fact remains that more housing in Brandon makes it easier for everyone to find an appropriate place to live.
And, despite the slowdown in other construction areas, it’s fantastic news that more than a thousand new dwelling units have been built in Brandon in the past two years.
As city council continues to discuss strategies for increasing the supply of affordable housing in Brandon — it has a total of 11 strategies and 81 action items, including the hiring of a full-time housing specialist — we are pleased to see that builders are out there, pounding nails into pine, and helping grow this city.