Fast-growing Canada Needs Housing; Public policy needs to keep pace
"In welcoming these new Canadians, we have an obligation to ensure there is sufficient housing"
By Casey Edge
To understand rising home prices, it’s important to appreciate that Canada is undergoing some of the fastest population growth in our history. Statistics Canada reports the country’s rate of growth is twice as fast as that of the U.S. and U.K. Canada’s population hit 37,589,262 on July 1, 2019, up 531,497 compared with July 1, 2018. Stats Can says this corresponds to just over one new person added every minute. They say “this growth rate is due largely to permanent and temporary immigration, data shows. Between July 2018 and July 2019, the country admitted 313,580 immigrants, one of highest number in history.”
This growth is also part of the reason for our strong economy – people bringing their skills and expertise to the country. We have often expressed concern about retiring baby boomers in every business sector, especially the trades, and immigration is one effective way to address this.
In welcoming these new Canadians, we have an obligation to ensure there is sufficient housing. More than half a million new Canadians annually need a place to live, yet traditionally Canada’s housing starts are about 200,000 per year. Clearly inadequate supply is stressed by demand resulting in high housing prices.
A big part of the issue is local municipalities out of sync with national policies. Canada is growing significantly yet many municipalities’ zoning policies don’t recognize this. Elected officials at every level must work together to ensure new housing, at the very least, keeps pace with population growth in the interests of affordability. They can best assist this by rezoning for higher density, improving permit processes, and avoiding unnecessary fees, taxes and regulations.
For example, Oregon is in the process of passing legislation that would eliminate sole single-family zoning in cities with more than 25,000 residents. Duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes would be allowed on lots currently zoned for single-family. In communities of least 10,000, duplexes would be permitted in single-family zones.
This is one example of how senior levels of government in Canada can address the lack of supply and high housing costs as we grow as a nation. Leaving rezoning to municipalities is mostly not working, creating excruciatingly long and costly processes that are unnecessary. Senior governments can resolve this problem with either the appropriate incentives or legislation. But doing nothing, or continuing boosting taxes and fees believing this will improve affordability, are not credible options.
Casey Edge is CEO of the Victoria Residential Builders Association and a passionate advocate for the home building industry in Canada.