What the 2016 Census Housing Data Reveals About Canada’s Hottest Markets

The 2016 Census housing data report by Statistics Canada has been released, outlining the demographic changes that have taken place since the last census in 2011, as well as the dwellings we live in. In that respect, there are some interesting findings that are particularly relevant to the housing market in the Golden Horseshoe.

With a 15% foreign buyers’ tax and measures for a municipal vacancy levy introduced last month, the issue of home ownership in Canada is a hot topic. Is 30-plus-per cent annual house price growth in the GTA largely down to foreign buyers, or is that a complete red herring? The truth, according to Statistics Canada, is somewhere in between, as analyst Jeff Randle explains.

“In February we released a total count of the private dwelling stock and a count of the private dwellings that are occupied by usual residents,” he says. “The remainder between these two is something that has been misused to count the vacant dwelling stock.”

In counting the dwellings not occupied by usual residents, one portion can truly be categorized as unoccupied dwellings which would be subject to a vacancy tax. But a higher proportion of those dwellings are occupied by a temporary person like a student or a foreign worker, says Randle, especially in a large city.

“In a place like Toronto where there are many educational institutions, you would be more likely to find these types of situations,” he says. “You can compute the usual resident occupancy rate, and in the Toronto that is 95 per cent, which is higher than all the other major urban centres in Canada.”

The Impact of Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan

The Ontario Fair Housing Plan is almost one month old and already there are signs it is having the desired effect in terms of cooling the scalding hot GTA real estate market.

According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, a record amount of new listings appeared in April, which is in complete contrast to the supply shortfalls of previous months. Whether a correction is on the way or not remains to be seen, but it appears that sentiment is certainly taking hold. The government’s intervention has caused plenty of debate, with many questioning the effectiveness of the measures it introduced.

The release of the 2016 Census housing data could not have come at a better time then, as cold, hard data is always useful when opinion is so divided.

Related Read: Home Sales Down Across Canada in April: CREA

City Dwellers have Different Housing Needs

Such data suggests the Ontario government may have been a little hasty with its new taxes, but it also has to be taken into consideration that 5 per cent of Toronto’s 2.2 million dwellings is a lot larger number than in Canada’s other cities.

Also notable in the census was the fact that people in major urban centres house themselves in different ways than the rest of the population. For instance, when analyzing the entire country, the most common residences were single detached homes at 53 per cent, with low-rise apartments next with 18 per cent. It’s a different story entirely in the cities, however, with the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver condo markets outpacing their low-rise counterparts.

That trend is amplified when you take the downtown core in isolation, as Randle outlines.

“If you look at the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area, in the city of Toronto only 24% of dwellings are single detached,” he says. “In Mississauga it is 37%, and all the other regions that make up the Toronto CMA – Brampton, Markham, Vaughan, Ajax, Pickering it is more than 50%.”

The Supply-Demand Imbalance

While a lack of housing supply has been bemoaned as a key reason for explosive price growth in Toronto over the last year, the data from Stats Can shows that housing stock has outpaced population growth (6.2% Toronto; national 5%) over the last five years.

“In Toronto the total private dwelling stock grew 7.5%, which is ahead of the national average of 5.8%, says Randle. “The population growth in Toronto (6.2) was ranked fourth behind Calgary and Edmonton, both above 13%, and Vancouver 6.5%.”

While statistics don’t tell the whole story in what is a very complex issue, it does appear that progress has been made with regarding to housing, albeit not at a pace most would want.

About Daibhead O’Ceallacháin

Daibhead O’Ceallacháin is a freelance writer from Ireland that moved to Toronto in 2010. Writing for his local newspaper, he covered real estate during Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” era and the subsequent housing crash and financial crisis. Today he writes about real estate, finance and politics in Canada, the U.S., Ireland and England.

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