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Dawson Creek housing starts drop 72 per cent

'Everybody kind of needs LNG (liquefied natural gas) to go through just to keep the bottom from falling out'

Construction of new homes in Dawson Creek dropped drastically from 2014 to 2015, according to new data from BC Stats.

In 2014, construction started on 297 new houses in the city, compared to last year when 83 new homes broke ground. 

It's the second-largest drop among municipalities in the province.

The Mile Zero City is sandwiched between the District Municipality of Equismalt, which at 81 per cent had the largest drop in housing starts, and the City of Quesnel, which saw a 71.4 per cent drop in new home construction in 2015.

"Everybody kind of needs LNG (liquefied natural gas) to go through just to kind of keep the bottom from falling out."

So far in 2016, there has been just one start in Dawson Creek, according to the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Slow residential growth is the new reality for the city, Dawson Creek realtor Kevin Kurjata said.

"I don't like predicting the future," he told the Dawson Creek Mirror on Wednesday. "(But) I think (slow growth) will be the norm for the next year or two at least."

The downturn in oil and gas, which has pushed unemployment in Northeast B.C. to a provincial high 9.7 per cent, is partly behind the drop in new builds.

But a large number of investment properties are wrapping up construction in Dawson Creek, which is also playing a role, Kurjata says. 

What he calls "the duplex party" that began in 2012, is officially over.

"We're oversupplied because for the first time in the city's recent history, we had a company show up that had the ability to pre-sell investment properties to buyers from the Lower Mainland and Southern Alberta, primarily, based on the (2012) rents," Kurjata said, referring to Western Canadian Property Group.

In 2012, average rents for two- and three-bedroom rental properties in Dawson Creek sat at $1,048 and $1,242 per month, respectively.

"When people are making a lot of money off of a relatively low-priced product like a townhouse in Dawson Creek for $220,000 that you are able to rent out for (almost) $2,000 a month, it looked pretty juicy."

Fort St. John bucks trend

The picture is different in Fort St. John, where new home construction actually went up in 2015. 

Construction began on 476 homes in Fort St. John last year, 41 more than in 2014. 

So far in the first quarter of 2016, there are 13 new homes under construction.

According to Fort St. John Realtor Roland Cataford of Century 21 Realty, the slow residential growth trend extends north of the Peace River as well. 

"In 2015, things were growing a little bit," he said, adding it was the tail end of a building boom brought on by optimism for liquefied natural gas (LNG) development. "Where we are now, there's been a huge change."

Not only is new construction down, but sales have also dropped off by around 70 per cent, he said. 

Cataford attributes both of the downward trends in housing starts and sales to declining consumer confidence.

"Everybody kind of needs LNG to go through just to keep the bottom from falling out," he said. "A lot of what I am seeing right now is people saying 'I got laid off, I need to sell.' Those are tough ones because people are kind of feeling like they are up against a wall."

Cataford says when the 2016 numbers come out next year, Fort St. John's numbers could be closer to Dawson Creek. 

Housing start data, which tracks the beginning of construction of a new house, is updated once a year.

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