Survey Says: Canadian Housing World’s Most Affordable, Least Affordable

In what may have come as a shock to anyone living in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, the 7th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey recently ranked Canada and the United States the most affordable markets among countries surveyed in 2010.

To be ranked affordable, a market could not have an average housing price of more than three times the median income for that market; nine of the 35 Canadian markets surveyed met this criterium.

Among Canada’s most affordable cities, according to the survey:

  • Windsor, ON
  • Fredericton, NB
  • Thunder Bay, ON
  • Moncton, NB
  • Yellowknife, NWT
  • Charlottetown, PEI
  • St. John, NB
  • Saguenay, QC
  • Trois-Rivieres, QC

But wait. Among the 325 markets surveyed, 82 were major metropolitan centres with populations exceeding 1,000,000; in this group, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver earned the dubious distinction of being the among the most ‘severely unaffordable’ cities surveyed in North America. No Canadian major metropolitan markets made the ‘affordable’ list. Edmonton, Ottawa-Gatineau and Calgary were ranked as ‘moderately unaffordable’.

Vancouver’s soaring housing prices earned it the rank of third most unaffordable city in the world, with an average home costing 9.5 times the median income in that city. Hong Kong, China, now ranks number one; a home there costs 11.4 times the median income. The average house in Sydney, Australia, ranks only slightly more unaffordable than Vancouver, costing 9.6 times the median income.

So what does this mean?  Not much if you don’t agree with the survey results, but it does raise the question of how to address rising housing prices in global urban centres. Interestingly, the least affordable markets generally also have the strictest land use regulations. The report suggests that changes to urban planning are needed to ease pressure on prices in these cities.

With housing prices in Canada’s largest cities forcing many potential buyers out of these markets, more affordable metropolitan centres have an opportunity to promote their advantages to attract skilled workers and new housing investment.  

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