Housing market helps fuel Windsor area’s recovery

WINDSOR, Ont. — The county is leading growth in the area’s residential construction and is further evidence the area is recovering from recession.

Residential housing construction is up 41 per cent to 803 units in 2010 from 2009 in the Windsor-Essex region, according to a Town of LaSalle planning report.

Of the homes built in Windsor and Essex County in 2010, seventy per cent — 565 dwellings — were in the county.

But construction remained well below the 28-year average of 1,862 residential units annually.

Leading the way were LaSalle and Amherstburg. Housing starts in those towns have increased each of the last two years after bottoming out in 2008. In LaSalle, residential building activity jumped 51 per cent to 156 new units from 2009 to 2010. LaSalle’s 28-year average is 226.

In Amherstburg over the past year, housing construction soared 98 per cent to 104 starts, inching toward its 28-year average of 121. Lakeshore development is also on the rise, with residential building permits increasing 33 per cent to 159 dwellings built over the past year, still below its 28-year average of 224.

“It’s safe to say there is a recovery and that’s a good sign in what’s happening overall in the region,” said Larry Silani, LaSalle’s director of planning and development services.

In Windsor, residential construction permits in 2010 increased 84 per cent to 238 from the prior year, but its residential construction is still well below the 28-year average of 803.

Over the past five years most of the homes built in Windsor were for first-time buyers, Silani said. There’s now a glut of homes at the bottom end of the market, which probably explains Windsor’s slow new housing construction recovery, he said. A Windsor planning official did not return a phone call.

“I feel like this year will be an even stronger year and (permits) will exceed last year’s by 10 to 15 per cent,” said Morris Harding, Lakeshore’s chief building official. “It does take time. It was quite a bit of a recession we were in.”

Suburban communities in Essex County are popular because of a growth in commercial construction before the recession hit.

“I think bedroom communities have a lot more to offer than they did years ago,” Harding said. “You don’t have to travel to Windsor to shop. I think commercial activity has moved out of the city. It’s allowed people to move around and have access to everything.”

The houses being built in Lakeshore are bigger than in previous years. The majority are 1,800 to 2,000 square feet in size, quite a bit larger than the raised ranches built in 2003 and 2004 that were 1,300 to 1,500 square feet.

“We are getting more custom-built homes, two storeys, people who are spending more money,” Harding said.

In LaSalle, most of the new homes are expensive, costing a minimum $300,000, Silani said.

“What we are seeing is more construction in the mid to high end,” Silani said. “The first-time home builder is not building here.”

New homeowners are drawn to LaSalle because of its trails, parks and protected woodlots, Silani said.

An Amherstburg planning official did not return a phone call Thursday. Harding speculated that Amherstburg was attracting residential construction because it has nice parks, a new recreation complex, waterfront and a Wal-Mart.

Not all of the county communities have seen a recovery. Leamington issued 41 residential construction permits last year, up from 36 in 2009. Essex had 25 new homes compared to 24 in 2009 and Kingsville dropped to 60 residential permits from 79 in 2009.

“It’s a matter of the market catching up,” said Danielle Truax, Kingsville’s planner. “We have no impediments to construction. It’s probably just the market.”

Over the past 28 years, Kingsville has averaged 100 new homes a year.

“We have a large supply of serviced lots ready to be developed,” Truax said. “I think we are getting down to Kingsville growing at a healthy pace.”

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Robert Schussler

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