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Liberals to revive ‘war-time housing’ blueprints in bid to speed up builds

Click to play video: 'Canada launching consultations on housing builds inspired by war-time plan: Fraser'
Canada launching consultations on housing builds inspired by war-time plan: Fraser
WATCH: Feds to revive "wartime housing" standardized blueprints to speed up builds – Dec 12, 2023

LATEST UPDATE: The details of this announcement were made on Dec. 12, 2023. To read the latest information on this program, click here.

Nearly 80 years after it was first brought in, Global News has learned the federal government is reviving a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) program to provide standardized housing blueprints to builders, according to a senior government source.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser announced Tuesday the Liberal government will hold consultations on how the relaunched program will function. The senior government source tells Global News blueprints of various building types and sizes will be made available by the end of 2024.

Pre-approved housing plans are anticipated to cut down on the building timeline by having projects move through the municipal zoning and permitting process more quickly.

Click to play video: 'How B.C.’s ambitious home building plans could lead to a drop in prices'
How B.C.’s ambitious home building plans could lead to a drop in prices

Mike Moffatt, senior director of policy and innovation at the Smart Prosperity Institute, proposed this idea directly to the federal cabinet during meetings in Charlottetown this summer, and believes it could cut as much as 12 months off construction times.

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“I think builders and developers would be quite interested in this, particularly if it helps track through the approvals process,” Moffatt told Global News.

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Moffatt notes that for the program to be effective, it will require a wide catalogue of blueprints.

“They certainly need to have, you know, a fairly extensive catalogue of designs so people aren’t sort of forced to choose between, you know, one or two designs or nothing,” Moffatt said.

The program is a throwback to the CMHC’s work from the 1940s to late 1970s, where hundreds of thousands of homes were built from thousands of plans approved by the federal housing agency.

Many of these homes, dubbed “strawberry box” houses or “victory homes,” were built for returning Second World War veterans, and are still standing in many Canadian neighbourhoods.

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Builders using standardized designs should lead to more favourable terms from lenders and insurance companies, Moffatt believes.

“Imagine if you wanted car insurance and you were trying to go to your insurer on a type of car that they had never seen before, that you’d put together yourself,” he said. “They would have a lot of trouble pricing that insurance.”

The potential for quicker build times and reduced expenses has companies like Calgary-based 720 Modular excited for the program.

“Currently how we build, every building is a snowflake,” 720 Modular project manager Craig Mitchell told Global News.

“If we can move to a standardized framework, all of a sudden now we have a fighting chance to accelerate housing pace because we’re not having to redesign every time we go and build a building.”

Standardized plans particularly benefit companies like Mitchell’s, who build their homes inside a warehouse, and then deliver them in shipping container-sized portions to the location of the home.

That process is known as modular or prefabricated building, which Mitchell describes as faster, cheaper and greener compared to traditional building techniques.

“If the internal guts of the building itself structurally and the layouts are all similar, now we can really move forward and start industrializing construction, by moving some of that work offsite for example,” he said.

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