Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Housing starts slow to start year

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The experts were predicting a slowdown in homebuilding activity this year and so far, local builders are sticking to the script.

For the second straight month, the number of housing starts in Manitoba lagged behind last year's pace in February.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) said there were 167 new single- and multi-family starts recorded in the Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), which includes Winnipeg and 10 neighbouring municipalities. That was a decline of 10.7 per cent from the 187 starts recorded in February of last year, and followed a 19 percent drop in January.

As was the case in January, the biggest year-over-year slide last month was on the multi-family side of the market, where starts were down 15.4 per cent to 66 units from 78 a year earlier. Single-family starts were down by 6.4 per cent to 101 from 109.

In its first-quarter forecast released last month, CMHC predicted combined starts will decline by six per cent this year in the Winnipeg CMA and by 8.9 per cent in Manitoba.

Dianne Himbeault, the agency's senior market analyst for Winnipeg, said Monday while February's decline was more modest than January's decline, the overall pace of housing starts remained lower than in the latter part of 2013.

"This is consistent with our expectation for a reduction in housing starts this year, reflecting rising new home inventory and a moderation in net migration," she added.

Himbeault also noted homebuilders are expected to pick up the pace once spring arrives and the ground begins to thaw after an unusually tough winter.

Manitoba Home Builders Association president Mike Moore said he's not concerned about this year's slower start given how cold this winter has been.

"We've had the coldest winter in 75 years, or whatever," he said. "I would have thought we would have fallen even more in January and February, then come back again if and when the now melts."

Moore said even if there is a six per cent decline in housing starts this year, "we'll still be elated because it would still be like our third-best year in the last 25."

He also noted a good response to this year's Spring Parade of Homes, which continues until March 23, could generate new sales and more starts for later in the year.

Nationally, CMHC said the pace of housing starts picked up last month, ending a string of modest declines that began in November. It appears the longer-term trend remains flat.

The agency estimated there were 11,097 actual starts in February for a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 192,094 starts, up from 180,481 in January.

 

-- with files from The Canadian Press

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2014 B5

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