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Building boom echoes economy.

The City of Greater Sudbury's chief building official is anticipating another banner year for home construction, a sign of a vibrant and increasingly diversified local economy.


Guido Mazza says while the city's mining sector is "hitting on all cylinders," there are also millions being spent in institutional and commercial projects. Notables include new student residences at Laurentian University and College Boreal, expansions at seniors' homes and a slew of new retail outlets in the city's south and east ends.

Sudbury home building hit a ten-year high last year with 411 units including 374 single-family dwellings. Building permits issued were valued at $53.7 million in construction, a 20-per-cent increase from the previous year.

Mazza expects that trend to continue this year.

New and upscale homes are in such demand, some small builders and developers are bringing back property that has been dormant for years.

Mazza says many mothballed subdivision plans drafted during Sudbury's last home-building boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s are being dusted off as contractors were out in mid-April with drills and blast mats across the city's rocky landscape preparing sites.

Residential subdivisions are popping up in the city's south end, Walden, Garson, Minnow Lake and New Sudbury sections. According to Mazza, 21 new subdivisions containing 522 new lots are in various stages of development.

Issued building permits, an indicator of home starts to come, are down slightly in Sudburythrough the first three months of 2005 over that period in 2004 (28 permits compared to 36) Mazza anticipates those numbers will bounce back next month.

"The (total) values of construction are three times over where we were last year," says Mazza, with $32 million in building permits issued through the first three months of this year, compared to only $12.6 million through the first quarter of 2004.

Mazza says new buyers appear to be a combination of new people arriving in Sudbury for work, mixed with locals moving forward in life with that well-paying job opened up through a retirement.

One critical factor that could later impact the pace of home construction is the shortage of skilled trades.

Mazza says major industrial projects in the city are sucking up the tradespeople faster than the population can replace them.

Junior miners Dynatec and FNX Mining are rehabilitating former Inco mines, creating all kinds of employment. The nickel giant itself is building a new $120 million oxygen plant and is entering the second phase of its $115 million SO2 abatement program in building a flatbed roaster.

But residential contractor Al Harrigan, owner of Harrigan Builders, and president of the Sudbury and District Home Builders Association, has not experienced any shortage of tradespeople so far.

His company will build about 40 individual homes this year in the south end, Hanmer, Chelmsford and Lively, employing between 50 and 60 individual sub trades.

"Last year I had no issues getting tradespeople and last year was busy in Sudbury," says Harrigan, who has not heard of any other contractors experiencing labour shortfalls. "Our guys have been with me since the day I started building (in 1996)."

With new people migrating to town and many homeowners moving up into higher-end homes, money is flowing into the area.

"It's going to be a great year for building in Sudbury," says Harrigan.

Changing homeowner needs have spurred the development of lakefront condominiums in Greater Sudbury.

Dalron Construction cut the ribbon in April on a 30-unit luxury condominium complex on Lake Nepahwin in the city's south end. The units range between $280,000 and $450,000.

Dawn Morrisette, a project co-ordinator for Dalron, says the condominium market is starting to flourish from a combination of snowbirds, empty-nesters and affluent professionals.

"We're finding a real shift in the market," says Morrisette. "People are embracing the leisure lifestyle in Sudbury without the home maintenance."

Many in the workforce are not finding what they need in pre-owned housing so they're turning to new construction.

"We're seeing people coming up and transfers all over the place. We're seeing more engineering firms, more services and more trades coming in now that are becoming very specialized and in very high demand.

"We're also seeing an educated workforce coming in. Everybody talks about the medical school; we're seeing that and more."

She says Dalron has plans to build similar developments on other Sudbury-area lakes.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation figures are also pointing to another strong year for housing starts in Northern Ontario.

In northeastern Ontario, a housing starts and completions survey recorded seven single-detached starts in the four cities for March.

The numbers show year-to-date starts for the first quarter of 2005 have nearly doubled over 2004.

CMHC market analyst Warren Philp expects 440 housing starts in Sudbury this year including 390 single-detached units. Steady employment, a healthy resale market and continued low interest rates should stimulate more new units this year.

"People are optimistic about new construction. The resale market is still strong and the move-up segment has been hot the last few years," says Philp, adding there are precious few listings in the $130,000 to $220,000 range. "It's forcing many people to look at new construction."

In the northeast, the 18 single detached units started in this year's first quarter were two units higher than last year and more than double the average for the first quarter over the last five years.


North Bay, the hotbed of home construction for the past three years, just keeps rolling along. Eight single-detached homes were started through the first three months of this year.

Last year, North Bay set a city record for building permits recording more than $71 million worth, while the residential market recorded 146 new homes.

Sault Ste. Marie was ahead of last year's pace with nine singles started so far and three units above their five-year average of six.

But home construction activity was relatively quiet in other areas of the North.

Thunder Bay's first single-detached start for the year was registered in March.

A 14-unit apartment project accounted for the other first quarter starts. Total starts for the first three months of this year start at 15 units, up from 11 units a year ago. Only three permits were issued for single dwellings up until early March, well off last year's pace of 18 single-family units. Last year, the city issued 190 single-family dwelling permits worth $30.7 million, the largest chunk of Thunder Bay's $101.7 million in total construction.

Lingering April snow in Kenora has resulted in only two homes being started through the first three months of this year.

Timmins, which recorded 26 new homes in 2004, had yet to record a new housing start through the first three months of this year.

Last year, the city issued 522 permits for new home starts and renovations totalling more than $11 million.


Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:May 1, 2005
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