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Millions in funding coming for homebuilding innovation initiatives, Trudeau says


The federal government intends to earmark more than $600 million in the upcoming budget for a series of new homebuilding innovation efforts aimed at scaling-up the development of modular and prefabricated homes in Canada.

On Friday in Calgary, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this package of new funding is meant to help change the way homes are built in this country, and make it easier and cheaper to build at the scale needed to overcome the current housing shortage.

The Liberals are also for the first time allocating money to the pre-promised modernized housing design catalogue, reviving a wartime housing effort that built "victory homes" or "strawberry box homes" nationwide.

"We want to accelerate the pace of home construction to levels not seen since the end of the Second World War. To do that, we need to change our approach and adopt innovative technologies," Trudeau said.

Here's how the millions meant to grow Canada's homebuilding sector will be allocated:

  • $500 million into the already topped-up Apartment Construction Loan Program to support new rental housing projects specifically using innovative construction techniques from prefabricated and modular housing manufacturers;
  • $50 million for a new "Homebuilding Technology and Innovation Fund" that will also tap private sector funding to scale-up and commercialize housing technologies and materials such as those used in prefabricated homes;
  • $50 million towards regional initiatives seeking to modernize building practices through modular housing, mass timber construction, robotics, 3D printing and automation; and
  • $11.6 million to execute the Liberals' plans to standardize up to 50 "efficient, cost-effective, and liveable home blueprints" including frames for row housing, modular homes, fourplexes and other high-density designs.

According to the release accompanying Trudeau's latest housing-focused pre-budget spending announcement, these measures are just the jumping off point for plans to engage the housing, construction and building materials sectors, as well as labour unions and experts, "to develop a Canadian industrial policy for homebuilding."

The new technology fund will be led by an innovation cluster known as Next Generation Manufacturing Canada.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser said that these measures are meant to help avoid bottlenecking on the capacity side of Canada's construction workforce as the various federal policies meant to spur homebuilding start to translate into shovels in the ground.

"There's advantages to building in factories. You can do it faster. In fact, twice as fast as traditional stick-built homes. You can avoid having to deal with Canadian winters… you can also work around the clock, you can advance automation to become more efficient," Fraser said.

The housing minister said these programs would start rolling out "as soon as this summer and over the next two years."

In a statement reacting to the latest announcement, Conservative MP and housing critic Scott Aitchison questioned why Trudeau was touting "a 'new' program on innovation when a similar program already exists and re-announced two other existing programs," references to the apartment loan, and design catalogue commitments.

"All of these are his existing policies that have contributed to the doubling of the cost of housing," Aitchison said.

Facing reporters' questions about the rental and new-build focus of this week's announcements and whether there will be more measures coming for Canadians who already own a home but are facing mortgage renewals, Trudeau said to stay tuned.

"We will have more to say between now and the budget date on April 16, and perhaps we will save it for April 16," said the prime minister. "But, we have lots more to say because we recognize that the solution on housing is not any one thing." 




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