Sunday, May 28, 2017

Canada's 'Us and Them Cities'

In their bid to temper Canada’s overheated housing markets – some of which rank among the world’s least affordable – authorities in the country have slapped taxes on some foreign buyers and taken aim at vacant homes.

Now one group of analysts is recasting the crisis in a new light; exploring the dichotomy between the millions of empty bedrooms across the country and the many families struggling to live in cramped accommodation.

When the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis began delving into data on the country’s housing market some three years ago, one pattern kept cropping up. “We started to notice that there seems to be a misfit in the geometry of the population and the housing stock,” said the centre’s Paul Smetanin. The data suggested that in Ontario – Canada’s most populous province – 70% of people were living in homes that were either too big or too small for their family.

On Tuesday, the centre released a wide-ranging report that, among other findings, laid bare the extent of the issue. Across Ontario there are five million empty bedrooms. Basing itself on standards set out by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which look at the number of bedrooms required by households, the report found nearly two-thirds of the province’s households live in homes that are bigger than what they need, with more than 400,000 homes that count three or more empty bedrooms.

The contrast between the haves and the have-nots is particularly acute in Canada’s largest city. In Toronto and the surrounding area, said Smetanin, “for every bedroom that a household actually needs, there’s almost six empty bedrooms”. (...)

In Vancouver – where the housing market ranks as one of the world’s least affordable800,000 bedrooms sit empty. It would take just 120,000 of these bedrooms to meet the needs of the many families and residents living in spaces that are too small. “So while the media is dominated by housing affordability concerns, there’s sort of this lingering contradiction.”

Smetanin pointed to several factors to explain the phenomenon. “We live in a country that’s obsessed with ownership,” he said, with Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver boasting some of the highest home ownership rates in the world.“When you have a look at the baby boomers and empty nesters that are sitting in very large homes and they own their own homes, they’ve got nowhere else to go.”

This inertia has been exacerbated by city planning that has emphasised the construction of detached homes and condos and all but ignored “gentle density” options such as duplexes and townhomes, he said. “So even if they wanted the right size, they’ve got nowhere else to go because it doesn’t exist.”

by Ashifa Kassam, The Guardian | Read more:
Image:Tim Schmalz’s statue Homeless Jesus. Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images