Cheaper & Easier: Can Prefab Infill Ease Housing Squeeze?

BuildingIn is a new Canadian programme set up to incentive prefill construction.

Wed 05 Jun 24


Canadian housing experts are now pitching a plan for policymakers to embrace infill construction to solve the country’s housing crisis. They claim that the solution is cheaper than building out in the suburbs and easier than raising high-rise residential towers.

Infill construction occurs when urban planners use vacant or underused plots of land – with the underutilised space used to create low-rise housing where infrastructure already exists.

The plan, known as BuildingIn, is two-fold: it includes a new simulation tool, which will test the potential impact of infill on neighbourhoods, and a catalogue of pre-fabricated designs, ready to slot into the areas.

Vacant lots and underused parking lots can be redeveloped into housing, offices, shopping and more. Footage courtesy of @CityBeautiful.

As reported in Canada’s press overnight, this “one-two punch” could help planners, researchers and community leaders deliver on “impossible construction targets.”

“We need new approaches to housing that get us from where we are now to a dramatic increase in supply,” according to Rosaline Hill, the architect, planner and development consultant driving the program.  “We’re not looking for fine-tuning or minor improvements. We need a significant change.”

That change has driven the Trudeau government to invest in a “war-time” policy to expand social and affordable housing. Already, the government has pledged $600m to drive prefab manufacturing, mass timber construction, penalisation, 3D printing, and pre-approved housing designs, the strongest commitment by a national government to supercharge social and affordable housing.

Breaking the code

Former Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney’s national non-profit group CitySHAPES is part of the coalition of experts backing the project. She said the plan could help alleviate financial pressures facing municipalities struggling to pay for infrastructure in new housing developments. 

“Cities are strapped for cash. I can attest to that,” Ms McKenney said at the launch of BuildingIN. “Continuing to pay to service new neighbourhoods farther away from their core is not sustainable.” 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing to use mass timber, panalisation and 3D printing to deliver new housing on an industrial scale. (The Canadian Press / Alamy Stock Photo)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing to use mass timber, panalisation and 3D printing to deliver new housing on an industrial scale. (The Canadian Press / Alamy Stock Photo)

The Trudeau government has attempted to facilitate infill projects by requiring automatic approvals for four residential units on a single lot, but BuildingIN takes that one step further with permit-ready projects of up to nine units. 

Cities that sign up for the program could customise their catalogue of pre-fabricated low-rise building designs with what works for them and use the simulator program to plan where growth makes sense.

Affordable to builders, affordable to cities

The program has already attracted the attention of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which has awarded it $1 million in seed money.

Now a semi-finalist in the Housing Supply Challenge, BuildingIN will receive millions more if it breaks either the top 10 or the top three. But for now, it’s focused on getting cities to sign on. 

Its pitch is simple: pay for a program that will help speed up new housing projects and reach the growth targets you need to unlock substantial federal and provincial funding. 

“We’ve got a lot of willing municipalities that are very interested in, how can we actually get to our target?” according to Steve Pomeroy, a housing policy researcher. “I think the timing is just right.” 

How is Canada addressing its housing squeeze?

In January, Wood Central reported that Canada was bringing back a war-time policy, rolling out a catalogue of pre-approved designs that developers can use to expand housing stock.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to accelerate timber construction and adoption to meet the country’s Net Zero commitments – footage courtesy of @globalnews.

Canada is now one of the world’s tightest housing markets, with up to 15% of Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto residents paying 50% of their household income on rent.

To address this, the government is looking to accelerate mass timber construction to meet the demand for affordable housing, with Prime Minister Trudeau spearheading a push to expand mass timber building heights in the National Building Code.


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