Ottawa to launch pre-approved home design catalogue, bring back post-war effort

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The federal government intends to resurrect a post-war effort to ramp up housing construction across Canada — but with a 21st-century twist.

A consultation process will begin next month on developing a catalogue of pre-approved home designs to accelerate the home-building process for developers, Housing Minister Sean Fraser said Tuesday.

It’s a reboot of a federal policy from the post-Second World War era, when the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. developed straightforward blueprints to help speed up the construction of badly needed homes, Fraser said.

“When many thousands of soldiers were returning home to be reunited with their families at once, Canada faced enormous housing crunches,” he said.

“We intend to take these lessons from our history books and bring them into the 21st century.”

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A throwback to homes built after the Second World War and in response to the current housing crisis, the federal government says it will create a modern catalogue of prefabricated buildings that can be built quickly to house Canada’s booming population.

Many of the post-war home designs — including those for modest detached homes known as “strawberry box” houses — are still scattered in neighbourhoods across the country to this day.

The modern-day version of the catalogue will instead focus on low-rise builds, such as small multiplexes, student housing and seniors’ residences, then explore a potential catalogue for higher-density construction.

The goal is to better ensure housing builds can be fast-tracked for approval from the CMHC and others, while also promoting larger-scale production through factory-based construction.

“I have seen estimates from experts in the field indicating this could cut up to one year off the time for construction on a project,” Fraser said.

The government is aiming to have the catalogue ready sometime next year.

Fraser said it will go hand-in-hand with the national building code. The code, which the minister said the government is planning to update, offers guidelines that are only enforceable if a province or territory chooses to adopt them.

Catalogue could be ‘transformative,’ expert says

The idea of a catalogue of pre-approved blueprints was one of several recommendations in a report co-authored by housing expert Mike Moffatt that was released earlier this year, called the National Housing Accord.

“This is potentially very transformative,” Moffatt said in an interview.

Creating a catalogue will help get shovels into the ground faster by speeding up the process of approval for everything from financing to municipal permitting, he said.

Moffatt, who is a senior director of policy and innovation at the Smart Prosperity Institute, has become an influential figure on housing policy in Canada. After publishing his report this summer, Moffatt attended the Liberals’ cabinet retreat to talk about housing.

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Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser explains the types of housing the government has prioritized to help speed up new builds and help solve the country’s housing crisis.

On the catalogue, Moffatt said the blueprints also have the potential to boost productivity.

“One of the big challenges we’re going to have building enough homes is having enough skilled labour. And certainly we need to increase the number of tradespeople we have. But we also need to find ways to be more productive. And this would help get us there,” he said.

The federal government has so far moved forward on several recommendations in the accord that Moffatt and other stakeholders put together.

“We made sure that we brought together builders and developers in the real-estate industry, along with academics, but also with the not-for-profit side,” Moffatt said.

“Because we essentially (locked) everyone into a room for a day and tried to figure out what we can all agree on, that, I think, gives these recommendations credibility.”

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