Ottawa-Gatineau housing starts fall 12% in March: CMHC

Housing starts

Builders in Ottawa continued to start new homes at a brisk pace in March while starts on the Gatineau side of the River fell significantly compared with a year earlier, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Wednesday.

There were 523 new housing units launched in Ottawa last month, up from 277 in March 2019, the housing agency said. In Gatineau, however, builders launched just 111 new builds ​– a 75 per cent drop from the 443 starts recorded a year earlier.

The figures cover a month that started with the local economy firing on all cylinders before slowing down considerably amid efforts aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. While CMHC’s figures don’t directly account for the impact of these measures, other segments of the residential real estate market observed a noticeable slowdown in the second half of March.

Overall, housing starts in Ottawa-Gatineau dropped 12 per cent year-over-year to 634 in March.

Single-detached starts in Ottawa jumped 44 per cent year-over-year to 190, while the number of new multi-unit builds – which include condos, apartments and townhomes ​– rose 130 per cent to 333. On the Quebec side, meanwhile, single-detached starts fell 43 per cent to 21, while multi-unit starts declined 78 per cent to a total of 90.

The region’s annual pace of housing starts fell dramatically in March. CMHC said the seasonally adjusted annual rate of new builds in Ottawa-Gatineau dipped from 16,948 in February to 8,891 last month, an decrease of 48 per cent.

The slowdown in local housing starts mirrored a trend seen across the country.

Nationally, CMHC said the annual pace of housing starts slowed by 7.3 per cent last month, with the seasonally adjusted annual rate of starts coming in at 195,174 units in March, down from 210,574 in February.

The decline likely indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic “has begun to impact residential construction activity,” Bob Dugan, CMHC's chief economist, said in a statement.

Economists had expected an annual pace of 180,000 for March, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

CMHC says the annual pace of urban starts also slowed by 7.3 per cent to 182,553 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The annual rate of multi-unit urban starts, such as apartments, condos and townhouses, fell 13.4 per cent to 124,073, while single-detached urban starts increased 8.8 per cent to 58,480.

Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12,621 units.

The moving average of seasonally adjusted annual rates of housing starts was 204,717 in March, down from 209,109 in February.

– With files from the Canadian Press