'Full steam ahead' for new construction in midst of pandemic

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Windsor Star/Brian Cross




You’ll get no hint the local economy has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic in a new report detailing Windsor’s high-flying new construction numbers.

According to the City of Windsor Building Department report on new construction up to June 30, the total value of new projects for the first half of 2020 was $211.5 million, 21 per cent more than the $175.2 million for the first half of 2019. Even more remarkable the escalation in new housing units. By the end of June this year, permits were issued for 520 housing units worth $132 million. By the end of June in 2019, permits had been issued for just 189 units valued at $62 million.

And 2019 was no slouch when it came to new housing construction, with 774 total housing units built by year’s end compared to 359 in 2018.

“You can see from the numbers the kind of volume we’re doing, we’re full steam ahead,” John Revell, the city’s chief building official, said Wednesday. He said he’s not surprised by the robust building activity in the midst of the pandemic.

“If you think of the economics of building being like a freight train, even when it’s disrupted it takes a while for it to slow down,” he said, describing how builders have contracts they are obligated to fulfil. “There were a lot of projects in the hopper leading up to the start of the season before COVID-19 took effect,” he said.

A Royal LePage study released Thursday of housing prices across the country showed Windsor with the second-highest year-over-year percentage increase. Its average price went from $271,083 to $304,128 in the first quarter of 2020, a 12.2 per cent  increase, which was second only to Mississauga’s 13.5 per cent.

Top of list is the City of Windsor’s first investment in public housing in decades, the 10-storey, 145-unit Meadowbrook project. Permits for construction valued at $30 million were issued recently. However, the $39-million project’s original Dec. 31, 2020 completion date is no longer realistic due to coronavirus. Officials say it could take two years longer.

The new five-storey $23-million residence being built at St. Clair College to house 512 students is second on the list, with a permit for $18 million for above-ground construction. That’s followed by a $12.5-million new manufacturing facility being built in Rosati’s Grand Central Business Park at 4141 Plymouth Dr., and by a $8.3-million 60-unit residential building on Banwell Road. It’s one of three buildings in the 180-unit Eastside Horizons condo project.

So far in 2020, there have been permits issued for 205 apartment units compared to 21 at the same point last year. Single family homes (140 compared to 108), rowhouses (100 compared to 42), duplexes (eight compared to zero) and semi-detached homes (28 compared to five), are also on the upswing. New provisions approved by city council to make it easier to add an additional dwelling unit— by putting an apartment in your basement or above your garage, for example — appear to be getting results, with 24 permits issued up to June 30, compared to eight for the same time period in 2019.

Revell said COVID-19 has had little impact on building activity.

“There was only a five- or six-week window where construction was somewhat slowed down because of the restrictions placed on construction by the province,” he said. “But as far as permit applications, we’ve continued to receive a multitude of applications.”

There was a lot of demand for housing in Windsor before the pandemic, and these projects take months to get started and built, he said.

“Once COVID-19 is over, the economy is going to resume and people will still need housing. I think (builders) are just optimistic. They’re continuing to forge ahead with their projects.”

When COVID hit, staff at the building department quickly set up to work from home, a conversion that was made easier by the department going paperless more than a year ago, Revell said.

He said it’s probably inevitable that there will be a slowdown in building activity due to COVID-19, possibly in the fall. But for now, his department is extremely busy.