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What can new census data tell us about Canadian real estate?

by Corben Grant on 28 Feb 2022

The Government of Canada’s robust census program is a source of invaluable information for all kinds of topics. Unfortunately, this level of detailed data collection takes a lot of time and effort, and as a result, a census is only conducted every few years. That means until recently, we have been working from census data collected as far back as 2016. 

There are some statistics that change slowly, so this older data can still be most relevant. However, when it comes to real estate, obviously a lot has changed, especially in the last two years where the real estate market has had multiple major surprises and unprecedented performance. Now, we are starting to see some of these effects.

Because the census covers five years of changes, you cannot chalk everything up to pandemic effects, however, a lot of the trends in housing were already at play as far back as 2016 only to be exacerbated by recent conditions.

Luckily, this month, Statistics Canada has released newly compiled data from the 2021 census. Let’s take a look at some of the insights it contains:

Canada’s fastest-growing cities

Over the past few years, changing conditions due to the pandemic and housing market conditions have seen a lot of Canadians relocating and settling elsewhere. As a result, some cities have been seeing increasing and decreasing levels of population.

Among the fastest-growing municipalities were large areas that are peripheral to larger Canadian cities.

The fastest-growing region was East Gwillimbury, a municipality between Toronto and Barrie. The area saw a growth of around 44% in the last five years. Other areas in Ontario such as The Blue Mountains, New Tecumseth and Milton also displayed growth of over 20%. Larger cities in the province also saw high growth with Brampton, London, Oakville, and Kitchener all seeing around 10% growth. For comparison, Toronto grew by 2.3% over the same period. Curiously, Mississauga was just about the only city reporting a decline in population over this time, shrinking by 0.5%.

In BC, the fastest growing area was Langford, just outside of Victoria. Other areas seeing growth of more than 20% include Lake Country and Squamish.

In Alberta, cities in the Calgary area such as Cochrane, Airdrie and Canmore also saw a high growth of 24%, 20%, and 14% respectively. For comparison, Calgary grew by about 5.5%.

According to an analysis by Statistics Canada, it was areas farther away from major centres that saw the most decrease in population, showing that the trend of migration out of major cities only has effects to a point.

The complicated story of housing supply and vacant homes

One major theme in the discussion of housing in recent times has been the lack of supply in Canadian real estate markets. Another hot issue in relation to this has been the supposedly high number of vacant homes – those that are owned but not being used for residential purposes, which some claim is having a negative impact on our housing availability and affordability. The new data helps to shine a light on some of these concerns.

In Toronto, for example, where the population grew by about 2.3%, the total number of dwellings grew by over 6%, indicating the fact that supply is not the sole factor driving the market in this city. Similarly, in areas like greater Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary, the growth in housing matched or exceeded the growth in population. Clearly, there is a large demand issue still at play despite the hard work of home builders to meet the needs of the growing population of Canada. The issues in the market can not be addressed from the supply side alone.

Meanwhile, looking at the statistics for total private dwellings occupied by usual residents, we can learn a bit about the state of vacant homes across Canada. Statistics Canada describes a dwelling occupied by a usual resident as “a private dwelling in which a person or a group of persons is permanently residing”. By taking the number of total dwellings and subtracting this figure, we can get some idea of how many dwellings are not occupied (for any number of reasons).

In the last five years, Toronto has seen an almost 40% increase in vacant homes, totalling about 92,346. This means that although 74,000 homes were built in the last five years, there are now around 26,000 more homes that are empty, severely eating into the new supply.

In Vancouver, the story is quite different, likely owing in part to their tax on vacant homes. In 2016, there were about 66,719 vacant homes in Greater Vancouver, while in 2021 there were just 61,213. This means that in addition to the 76,000 new homes built, an additional 5,500 vacant homes were filled with residents. Overall, this paints a positive picture of the success of their vacancy measures.

New data to be released periodically

Overall, the current release of census data provides some interesting insights into the real estate market in Canada. However, this is only one part of the upcoming releases from Statistics Canada. Until November, they will be releasing further data on themed topics such as “Canada's shifting demographic profile”, “Portrait of Canada's families and households”, and of particular interest to us, “Canada's housing portrait” set to be released in September. Stay tuned to CREW for more coverage of relevant census data in the coming months.



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