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Nanaimo riding a building wave as permits surge to a record high

Builders took out $319 million in building permits in the first half of this year, quickest pace ever for the fast-growing Island city

Demand for all types of housing has propelled the value of construction projects in Nanaimo, B.C. to a new record high.

During the first six months of the year, builders took out $319 million in building permits in the Vancouver Island city, the highest ever for those months. The five-year average for that period is $201 million, and the previous record of $308 million for those six months was set in 2019.

Projects in various stages of development run from the south end of the city to the north, and include supportive housing, B.C. Housing-funded affordable housing developments, student housing and seniors’ facilities.

Also in the works are projects that will rent or sell for market rates, such as apartment-style rental buildings and condominiums and an increasing number of ground-level multi-family buildings.

“I am very pleased that most of the new housing is in multi-unit buildings, providing more housing options for families,” Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said July 20.

Strong residential development shows confidence in the city, while multi-family developments show Nanaimo is growing into a “complex urban centre,” Krog said.

This growing city has a population north of 100,000 and, according to the 2021 census, is among the fastest-growing cities in Canada, tied for third place with Kamloops, B.C.

In 2019, the city saw its highest annual permit values at $445 million, but it remains to be seen if that record will be broken this year.

Of the $319 million in permit values to date this year, residential projects account for $238 million, Jeremy Holm, Nanaimo director of development approvals, told council this week.

More than 80 per cent of the 1,085 housing units approved in the past six months are multi-family units.

Nanaimo’s affordable housing strategy aims for 70 per cent of new residential construction to be built as multi-family.

Over the past decade, the annual average is 925 housing units of all types — which has already been surpassed in the first half of the year.

The benchmark price for a single-family house in Nanaimo is now $906,300, according to the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board, while a townhouse is $628,800 and an apartment-style condominium is $478,000.

Nanaimo’s new community plan favours community development in nodes where homes, jobs and services and shopping are close to each other.

Holm showed council a map showing 16 projects in the city’s downtown contained close to 960 housing units in various stages of approval.

The city’s upgrades to the Metral Drive Cohas also attracted new developments, likely spurred by the city’s investment in public infrastructure for a complete street plan, Holm said. Improvements include seven raised intersections to make the area more accessible, trees on boulevards, separated bicycle tracks and continuous sidewalks.

Permits this year also included $63 million for a new correctional centre, with more permits expected for that project.