Edmonton sees affordable housing opportunity with new provincial building code

In its efforts to build more affordable housing, City of Edmonton staff will find their dollars will go a little further after the province changed the building code for wood-building construction.

Instead of limiting construction to six storeys, use of fire-resistant material will now be allowed for 12 storeys.

“I think it supports market housing affordability, and if it helps us deliver public and subsidized affordable housing more cost-efficiently, that may help us in our quest to build more affordable housing as well as we look to deliver public housing for vulnerable Edmontonians,” Mayor Don Iveson told Global News, adding that it it will also help market-priced construction at large.

The change was announced by Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu on Friday.

“Not only will this decision support the forestry industry and land developers, it will provide affordability to homebuyers, bolster employment and give Alberta a competitive advantage,” he said in a news release.

“We made this change knowing that mass timber products are safe and that these buildings will meet all necessary standards.”

Christel Kjenner, Edmonton’s director for housing, said in an email that wood construction is considerably cheaper than concrete, however, housing providers likely will still prefer concrete because of the durability factor. While calling it a good policy move for other reasons, she said that so far, no affordable housing buildings over six storeys have been built in Edmonton.

Iveson said other considerations have him encouraged with the change, including the support it gives to wood producers in the province, and how it will help with infill construction by lowering the price point, not only in the older parts of the city, but also further out in newer neighbourhoods.

The City of Edmonton was in on the consultation process undertaken by Municipal Affairs, Iveson said.

“Both on the safety code side, because you’ve got to have sprinklers and a variety of other fire suppression considerations, so the city has provided a lot of technical input there, but also advocated overall to say with all of the right safety considerations in place, that this would be good for affordability and good for wood producers.”

Current Alberta and national building codes allow wood-building construction for up to six storeys, but the next edition of the National Building Code – anticipated for publication at the end of 2020 – will allow for the use of tall wood construction with fire-resistant material for up to 12 storeys. Alberta is making the move now so fire-resistant material can be used in time for the upcoming construction season.

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