Top 5 Canadian cities for housing developers

When it comes to getting homes built, these are the places to be.

Construction cranes operate at a housing project in Ottawa.

Construction cranes operate at a housing project in Ottawa.

Long approval times, high costs and confusing systems have long plagued developers trying to get projects off the ground. The latest municipal benchmarking report from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association shows which major markets are getting better and which ones still need improvement. From their list of 21, here are top five jurisdictions to build housing in Canada.

5. Regina, Saskatchewan

While a fifth place finish is commendable, it’s important to note that Regina was in first place the last time this study was done. The city boasted a 4.2-month approval time. However, cities higher up on the list have begun modernizing their systems significantly. 

Regina has numerous features enabled including the ability to appeal land use decisions, mandated timelines for appeal decisions to be rendered and others. However, many municipalities bolstered their rankings by offering additional features. 

The study gave strong praise to the city for its Development Standards Manual which offers a comprehensive, digestible guide to the city’s application process and procedures. According to the study, the manual is written in well-structured language and uses flow charts that provide the reader with a clear sense of the stages and processes. In addition, it covers a range of topics that are pertinent to the development process, such as land-use policy considerations and report requirements.

4. London, Ontario

At ten months, London had the shortest average approval period of any Ontario city in the study. This is making it a popular spot for homebuyers looking to leave larger cities. 

London has been growing at record pace over the last five years, with the population rising by 10 per cent between 2016-2021. This is led by an influx of residents leaving the Greater Toronto Area to make their money go further. Recent census data shows the London CMA is the fastest growing region in Ontario and the fourth-fastest growing nation-wide only behind Kelowna, Chilliwack and Kamloops. 

As a result, its labour market is booming. Statistics Canada data shows employment in the region has gone up 20 per cent since 2018. 

3. Calgary, Alberta

2021 view of downtown Calgary from Centre Street Bridge

One of the big reasons people are leaving other major metro areas for Alberta is affordable housing. The city saw an average approval time of 5.4 months. The study noted that Calgary has one of the fairest ratios of charges imposed on low-rise development and high-rise development at $19 per square foot and $21 per square foot, respectively. On average, high-rise charges in the study municipalities are 80 per cent higher per square foot than for low-rise.

The study noted that Calgary has seen significant improvement since the last time cities were ranked. Approval times were down from 12 months in 2020. The city improved its ranking in this area from 9th to 5th place since the 2020 Study. 

The city also took the unique step of committing a $100 million in incentives for converting vacant office space to residential uses.

2. Charlottetown, P.E.I

This island town’s high level of accountability earned it second place in the rankings. It had an average approval time of 3.4 months – the lowest of all the cities in the study. 

The city also benefited from provincial action which requires municipalities to think carefully about how they grow. The Prince Edward Island Planning Act requires that all municipal official plans contain policies on future land use, management and development for a time horizon of no more than 15 years. As well, the PEI Planning Act requires that all land-use bylaws be reviewed every 5 years.

1. Edmonton, Alberta

When it comes to developing housing in Canada, Edmonton is king. 

The CHBA gave them a score of 91 per cent, earning them the top spot on the list. While its average approval time wasn’t the best (7.2 months), other strong features boosted its ranking. 

City officials say they have spent a great deal of effort making home-building rules easy to navigate, automating most development permits and banning single-family-home only zones.  The city’s online portal services have advanced functionality – it is possible to apply for pre-application meetings for rezoning, subdivision and development permits. There are also online services for submitting various actual planning applications, in addition to building permits. They were also the first jurisdiction in Canada to cut minimum parking requirements. 

And they aren’t done yet. The city is in the middle of the first major overhaul of its zoning bylaws in sixty years. The goal is to reduce the number of zones and land uses to make the development process even clearer and easier. 

These changes come at the perfect time. From 2016 to 2021, Edmonton saw its population grow from 964,000 to more than a million.


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