Covid-19 update from British Columbia
Casey Edge discusses the industry challenges
By Rob Blackstien
Casey Edge, the CEO of the Victoria Residential Builders Association, has been in constant contact with Canadian Contractor since the beginning of the pandemic, offering us valuable insight and front line knowledge. We recently asked him for an update on the situation in BC, and below is his response.
The challenges for our builders include project cancellations, permit delays, inspection delays, trades shortages, delays in materials. All of this adds costs to housing, in one of the most expensive markets in North America. Sales and housing starts have dropped off significantly, although the B.C. government has identified housing as an essential service. This was a wise decision because the population doesn’t stop growing and housing/self-isolation is critical during a pandemic. Interestingly, B.C. is flattening the curve with greater success than either Quebec or Ontario that introduced restrictions on housing.
Health and safety is always No. 1 and it’s important to follow the guidelines set out by the Provincial Health Officer, including:
- Posting COVID-19 signage;
- Training workers in sanitizing tools and equipment;
- Arranging crews to maintain two metre distancing, staggering shifts, etc.;
- Maintaining sufficient inventory materials for washing stations; and
- Ensuring good ventilation in interior spaces.
Housing creates skilled jobs in every community across Canada and municipalities have the ability to address some of the pandemic challenges and create greater opportunity for economic recovery.
We have recommended:
- Extend noise bylaws, already accomplished in some municipalities, to take advantage of daylight saving and help stagger shifts;
- Expedite permit processing;
- Reduce the frequency for minor variances;
- Delegate more authority to staff for approvals;
- Waive the requirement for public hearings for rezoning applications if the zoning is already consistent with the Official Community Plan. This is already permitted under BC’s Local Government Act; and
- Do not add regulatory burdens such as BC’s Step Code, that only increases costs, while undermining consumer protection. Wait for the National Building Code diligence on improved energy efficiency already underway.
VRBA sent a letter to the federal government requesting a Home Renovation Tax Credit when suitable to assist with employment and the recovery. On the West Coast a big earthquake is a certainty and a reno tax credit could help improve safety and reduce damage in homes.
We are also concerned about the mortgage stress test, which will hinder the recovery. Now is not the time to throw additional obstacles at young families trying to purchase a home.
Nobody really knows how this will look a year from now, but the economy has taken a serious hit and must become the priority when safe to do so.
That said, right now job No. 1 is health and safety.