All things considered, Edmonton has a positive housing market but, in some ways, it is also a quirky and conflicted housing market.
Unlike other major markets like Vancouver, Toronto and parts of Calgary, Edmonton has a solid, steady, and affordable housing market. Benchmark house prices have increased only 19 per cent over the past 15 years, while Edmonton’s official inflation numbers for the same period were about 38 per cent.
The late summer Edmonton housing market stats showed that:
- The average price of a home in the Edmonton area was $397,811; a 7.1 per cent year/year increase.
- Detached home average prices increased 5.4 per cent, year/year.
- Townhouse average prices increased 3.6 per cent, year/year.
- Condo apartment average prices increased half a per cent, year/year to $192,815.
Not only in Alberta, but throughout Canada, realtors, analysts and economists warn about a housing crunch while most areas are acknowledging the urgent need for new build growth.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) forecasts a need for 3.5 million more homes by 2030 than the country is currently on track to build and points out that the actual number of new builds has been in decline, from just over 271,000 in 2021 to 260,000 in 2022.
In May of this year, the annual pace of national housing starts dropped 23 per cent month over month, leading CMHC to predict that just fewer than 220,000 new homes will be built by the end of the year. While CMHC blames the sluggishness on various factors such as the economy, mortgage rates and consumer confidence, it is also beating the drums about labour shortages hindering construction and housing starts.
The bottom line is, Edmonton developers and homebuilders are sounding the alarm. The Edmonton housing market’s quirky dilemma is that, despite steady demand for new builds and lots of available work, there are simply – and urgently – not enough workers!
It is not only an Edmonton situation, but a Canada-wide problem. The residential construction industry is short tens of thousands of workers. With Canada already millions of homes behind what is needed to reach housing affordability in this decade, experts warn that a coming tsunami of retirements could make the problem even worse.
A recent CIBC report pointed out that the job vacancy rate in construction is at a record high with around 80,000 vacancies.
“Edmonton’s construction sector is working diligently to keep up with the demand for housing but has been having trouble finding skilled workers,” says a concerned Laura Bruno, Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Homebuilders’ Association-Edmonton (CHBA-ER). “The provincial job vacancy rate of 6.5 per cent, or 12,295 openings, reflects this and we are experiencing much of this in Edmonton.
“There are several factors contributing to Edmonton’s labour shortages; mainly retirement and limited replacement. During the pandemic, the residential construction industry saw unprecedented market demand and the demand exacerbated the existing skilled labour shortages in our region, making it very difficult to build a home. The Edmonton skilled trade shortage has been a trend for many years in the making and the pandemic made it worse.”
She specifies a shortage of nearly every skilled trade in the residential construction sector, from drywallers, carpenters and roofers to plumbing and HVAC. According to Edmonton homebuilder stats, experienced and qualified framers are particularly difficult to find.
Edmonton’s new homebuilders echo the concerns of most Alberta developers and national trends. Canada’s construction industry, in general, is confronting a construction labour crunch, caused by a looming wave of retirements that will see roughly 20 per cent of construction workers retire within the next 10 years or so.
As skilled trade workers ready for retirement, builders and developers worry about filling the gap. A recent BuildForce Canada report acknowledged that construction labour shortages vary from province to province and often make for regional differences.
Some even suggest that the construction labour crunch is a bit of an east vs. west dilemma, with prairie populations like Alberta skewing younger than Ontario, and being more advantageous – but in no way a cinch – for recruiting construction labour.
“At the moment, the Alberta housing construction labour supply is tight,” says Terry Parker, executive director of the Building Trades of Alberta (BTA), an organization who coordinates and promotes the interests of 18 Alberta local trade unions whose 60,000 members work in the residential, commercial, industrial construction, maintenance and fabrication industries.
“There are many reasons, including the practical reality that increased activity in the industrial and commercial markets are drawing tradespeople away from the residential sector. In Edmonton, as well as Calgary, more and more contractors are utilizing foreign workers for many of their projects. Changing and improving this situation will require a combined effort of contractors, various levels of government and unions working to attract more individuals towards careers in the skilled trades,” he notes. “Our industry must focus on both recruiting and retaining youth and under-represented groups into the trades.”
Bruno agrees about what it will take to ease the Edmonton construction labour crunch. She suggests, at least for the immediate future, Edmonton may have to “build smarter” and change things up a bit.
“Many new projects are shifting from single-family to multi-family housing, improving the number of houses per unit of labour, by using labour more efficiently. This will reduce the demand for labour and help with the current labour shortage. In the long-term, recruitment efforts for trade schools, expanding enrollment and encouraging more qualified and educated tradespeople to move to Edmonton can alleviate the pressures we are facing. There are also many scholarships available to help drive recruitment and enrollment, such as the BILD Alberta Scholarships for Construction Careers and the Edmonton Region Homebuilders Charity.”
Many construction experts and builders agree that, while it may seem vague and superficial, a blue collar vs. white collar/gig economy job perception and image change about construction trades is also long overdue.
Parker emphasizes the importance of being proactive.
“We are confident that 2024 will bring increased activity in all sectors of the construction market. If handled correctly, we will have a new generation of tradespeople entering the industry. But it is important to show both tradespeople and the general public that a trade is not just a job, but a career. We hope to see a parity of esteem that exists in many European countries.”
In Edmonton, as in most major Canadian housing markets, skilled labour is the lifeblood of construction and the future of Edmonton housing starts.
“We are excited to celebrate 70 years as an association next year,” Bruno adds. “The City of Edmonton Zoning Bylaw Renewal moved to Public Hearing last month and we are eagerly waiting to see how this will impact our industry.
“With our population increasing, affordable, high-quality housing will continue to be in demand. We could see interest rates decline, driving a solid year for the residential construction industry. We remain committed to keeping our economic advantage as one of the most affordable cities across Canada.”