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A solution to create more rental units in Delta?

A Metro Vancouver report notes that substantially reducing construction times and costs is essential if the region is going to meet the significant demand for rental housing
In recent years, housing delivery, particularly affordable rental housing, has been challenged by escalating construction costs, a result of multiple factors including rising interest rates and labour shortages. Schluesseldienst/Pixabay

Is off-site construction the way to go to create more rental housing units faster in Delta?

A recent report from Metro Vancouver’s Regional Planning Committee outlined a couple of potential solutions to the rental housing crunch, by streamlining the delivery of rental units through pre-approved plans and off-site construction.

The report notes that the average number of months to complete an apartment project in B.C. is greater than most other provinces and has been trending upwards over the past decade. It currently requires 22 months of construction on average for an apartment project to complete, in addition to time required prior to start for planning approvals.

Off-site construction, including prefabrication, building component parts off-site, panelized construction and modular construction, can reduce project delivery times, as well as reduce costs by 30 percent, the report explains.

Only a small proportion of housing projects are currently built off-site in B.C. at about five per cent of new construction, significantly less than in European countries. Sweden, for example, has the world’s highest rate of offsite construction at 80 per cent of single-detached projects and 10 per cent of multi-family projects, with up to 50 per cent pre-fabricated components.

The report adds there are many benefits to off-site construction using prefabricated components, including mass timber used in modular applications, while they have potential to significantly accelerate construction schedules.

The use of building components prefabricated offsite in factories or warehouses can also create significant efficiencies and eliminates costly delays, as they can be manufactured in advance and rapidly assembled on site, minimizing disruption in established neighbourhoods.

“Using industrial technologies and approaches that move construction processes off-site can enable large-scale, low-cost housing production by enabling standardization, improving quality, and reducing construction schedules. These methods can further streamline purchasing and other processes, reducing costs by up to 30 percent. Encouraging uptake through standardized guidelines and zoning regulations, including pre-approved reference plans, has the potential to broaden these practices,” the report adds.

“Governments can use their purchasing power to build scale for this type of industrial production, therefore growing the demand for a consistent pipeline of rental housing projects that could be supported by the off-site construction industry.”

The City of Delta’s Housing Needs Assessment, which helped guide the creation of the city’s Housing Action Plan, found that the majority of Delta’s purpose-built units were constructed prior to 1980. While some new developments are starting to become available, not much had been added over subsequent decades.

In 2021, Delta’s vacancy rate for purpose-built units was at 1.3 per cent.

About 77 per cent of the Delta’s over 7,500 rental units are in in the secondary market, such as secondary suites or privately rented dwellings, while the remainder are in purpose-built rental buildings.