‘We are living in a housing crisis’: Feds consulting on reviving ‘wartime housing’ design catalogue

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Robin MacLennan

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

The federal government is launching consultations to revive a revised version of a wartime housing effort: a standardized pre-approved design catalogue, with the aim of helping speed up construction.

“We are living in a housing crisis, but it’s not the first time Canada has been here. After the Second World War when many thousands of soldiers were returning home to be reunited with their families at once, Canada faced enormous housing crunches,” Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, said in December

“One of the tools that was deployed at the time to respond to the challenges they faced… was the development of simple pre-approved designs. We intend to take these lessons from our history books and bring them into the 21st century.”

The catalogue of pre-approved blueprints could be available for builders by fall 2024, but the minister could not provide an estimate of how many new housing units he expects to see built through this program.

“Sometimes the solutions we need can be found in our history books,” Fraser said. “Canada’s “war-time” housing response created simple pre-approved designs that could be built quickly, to build homes we needed when our soldier came home.

“It’s time to take that idea into the 21st century.”

The plan will focus on home designs that are “cost effective, labour efficient, and energy efficient, a throwback to a post-Second World War Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHMC) initiative that saw the federal Crown corporation create a series of housing design catalogues to help build more homes faster, for returning veterans.

Known as “victory homes” or “strawberry box homes” the government considers this sizable federal effort undertaken between the 1950s and 1970s key to addressing the housing shortages and construction capacity challenges of the time, and many of these homes remain standing across Canada.

Fraser said the initiative will differ from the post-war era builds in a few ways, including offering a series of different kinds of home designs within each category such as garden suites and laneway homes, as well as multiplexes that could be used for student housing or seniors’ residences.

“It’s important that we have multiple designs in each of these categories, so communities have some agency in determining what their communities look like,” Fraser said. The builds will be aligned with existing building codes so that the pre-approved designs will move more rapidly through the approval processes, potentially leveraging new technologies such as 3D printing.

“We want to create designs that can actually be built quickly and can be built cheaply without compromising on quality or sustainability,” the minister said. “It’s also going to ensure that people who live in these homes have reduced power bills month-to-month, and can continue to manage with the cost of living.”

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