Renters face financial challenges as home ownership drops

By Staff, with files from The Canadian Press | October 25, 2017 | Last updated on October 25, 2017
4 min read

If your clients are renters, they’re more likely to be over-stretched financially to keep a roof over their heads.

That’s because almost 40% of renters captured in the 2016 census spent more than 30% of their average monthly income on housing, finds StatsCan. That figure is largely unchanged from 2011 and more than double the approximately 17% recorded for homeowners.

The census also reveals that 30-year-old Canadians are less likely to own a home today than their baby boomer parents did at the same age, mirroring a modest but unmistakable decline in the national home-ownership rate.

At age 30, 50.2% of millennials owned their homes, compared to 55% of baby boomers at the same age. Young adults today are more likely to live in apartments than their 1981 counterparts, are less likely to live in single-detached homes, and — as StatsCan revealed over the summer — more likely than ever before to still be living at home.

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The figures should change the way Canada thinks about its real estate sector, said Graham Haines, research and policy manager at the Ryerson City Building Institute in Toronto. Policymakers have focused almost exclusively on policies to promote home ownership over the last 20-plus years, he said, pointing to tax policy and incentives.

“We have to start thinking about — if rent is going to start becoming a more important part of our real estate sector once again — how we make sure we’re building the right type of rental, rental where we need it and rental that’s affordable for the people who are going to be using it,” Haines said.

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In 2016 more than 9.5 million of the 14.1 million households captured in the census owned their homes, an ownership rate of 67.8% — down from 69% in 2011 after 20 steady years of baby boomers flooding the real estate market.

Rising house prices get government to act

Since 2011, the census shows, the value of homes has steadily increased to a national average of $443,058, up from $345,182 in 2016 dollars. Vancouver had the highest prices in the country with the average home valued at over $1 million; Toronto was at $734,924 and Calgary at $527,216. Montreal came in at $366,974.

As values have climbed in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa, so too have the percentage of renters, even though the supply of purpose-built rental units nationally has been on a decades-long decline as developers build more condominiums than apartments.

Overall, affordability remains an issue for almost a quarter of Canadian households, a figure that hasn’t changed much in a decade, with the pressure most acute in the hot housing markets of Toronto and Vancouver.

The federal Liberal government has promised to address affordability issues as part of an $11.2 billion, 11-year housing plan to be released in the coming weeks. It’s expected to have a heavy focus on building affordable units, with a new portable housing benefit that would be tied to individuals, rather than properties.

Speaking earlier this fall about work on the strategy, Evan Siddall, head of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., said the focus wasn’t solely on helping the ranks of homeowners.

“Rent or own, a home is a home,” Siddall said in an interview.

“When we think about housing we have got to think about renters who need support to rent, renters who rent on a market basis, and make sure people can migrate and own homes who should own homes.”

Millennials versus boomers

The migration to home ownership is likely to pick up for millennials in the coming years as they start families and look for homes or condominiums — a class of home that saw a 1.2% increase in households from 2011 — to fit their growing brood. At the same time, seniors will be looking to downsize.

That means the baby boomers will continue to fuel changes in the housing market by how long they remain homeowners and whether their children and grandchildren decide to rent or buy.

Haines said the two age groups, even though they are at different points in their lives, are likely to compete for the same kind of two-bedroom units that are a rarity in the market, potentially driving up costs. That may require policymakers to get more involved in the market to make sure more family-friendly housing gets built instead of a heavy focus on studios and one-bedroom units, Haines said.

“We’ve fallen into this trap of building [condo] units for investors rather than end users,” Haines said.

“There are positive signs that we’re starting to recognize that over the last 20 years, we’ve sort of let the market do what the market wants and maybe we need a little more attention […] that we’re actually getting what we need for our population.”

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Staff, with files from The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto and founded in 1917.