Kevin Berger

Sooke building boom

Sooke will surpass more than $16 million in building permits this year

New homes are reaching taller skies in Sooke at record-breaking speeds, but local contractors face a significant shortage in skilled workers to keep up with demand.

Last year, Sooke issued $16 million in building permits, while this year it is expected to surpass that number well before the end of the year, said the Vancouver Island Construction Association in a recent report.

“I’ve never seen it like this … now everything is presold and we can’t get them up fast enough,” said Sooke contractor Kevin Berger, whose company does foundations, framing and siding in up-and-coming developments in Sunriver.

Ever since the construction boom began in the new year, he’s had a tough time finding skilled tradespeople to keep up with the demand in Sooke.

“I’m lucky. I’ve got eight guys working under me, and I could use another eight more,” he said, adding that last year his crew would put out eight houses on the market and stopped at that.

Berger said he tried advertising in Victoria for painters, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and general laborers, though many end up getting plucked by bigger companies either in Victoria or Langford.

Despite the challenges that lay ahead, Berger is happy to see the growth.

“I’ve got lots of work and I’m not sitting at home, so it’s great,” he said.

In 2015, the District of Sooke issued 182 building permits, which created 97 new units, noted chief administrative officer Teresa Sullivan. Year to date, 164 permits were issued,  creating 129 units and still going strong.

“I expect by the end of December those numbers are going to remain on an upwards trajectory, so it’s really good news,” she said.

On Vancouver Island, the construction industry employs 34,200 people, with an increase of 9.6 per cent in the previous quarter, noted Greg Baynton, CEO of the Vancouver Island Construction Association.

“The construction industry [on Vancouver Island] is firing on all cylinders, but in Sooke, it’s almost exclusively 97 per cent residential,” Baynton said.

He added that part of what’s fueling demand on the Island are low interest rates, net in migration and short inventory of housing.

“We’re one of the only provinces or territories that’s boasting a vibrant economy, that’s attracting a lot of in-migration, including people who want to work in the construction industry, which is sort of exacerbating the housing challenges we have right now,” Baynton said.

And the construction bloom is not expected to stop anytime soon, either.

The amount of activity for the construction industry overall is going to flatten out a little bit in post-2018 and 2019, but it will be sustained at a level higher than we’ve historically ever seen out to 2024, Baynton said.

“This appears to be a long-term, sustainable level of investment across the industry, so it looks like we’re in for a pretty good ride for a few years yet.”