Halifax has been seeing a steady growth in population for over five years, and even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t put an end to that trend.
Between July 2019, and July 2020 Halifax’s population grew two per cent to 448,544. That’s up over 9,000 people, making one of the fastest growing areas in the country, second only to Oshawa Ontario.
“What’s great about it is it’s primarily immigration driven” said Halifax’s Mayor Mike Savage.
“We’re not taking people from Yarmouth or Cape Breton, we’re taking people from other parts of the world who can go anywhere in the world, and they’re choosing to come to Halifax.”
It was less than a decade ago that one of Halifax and Nova Scotia’s biggest problem was it’s aging and shrinking population. The province and municipality, as well as business organizations worked together to change that.
That collaboration has paid off and is something that’s actually been a selling point for businesses.
“That’s just not the type of collaboration they’re seeing elsewhere,” said Wendy Luther, president and CEO of Halifax Partnership, which works to attract businesses and investment from around the world to Halifax.
“The companies a) find its very helpful to them and their decision making but also they can have comfort that once they chose to locate in our city, that we will all continue to rally around them and make sure they’re successful.”
Luther says businesses are also impressed with the access to talent in Halifax.
“We are truly blessed with our post-secondary institutions and the incredible talent that comes out of those institutions,” she said.
And that’s something that works both ways. As more businesses make Halifax home, it works to attract even more people to come work for them.
“It wasn’t that long ago that people were coming out of school and leaving. Now they’re staying, or even going to school somewhere else and coming here because they see opportunities,” said Savage.
“We weren’t a tech centre five years ago, we are now. “
Impacts of a growing population
All this growth is being noticed in Halifax’s real estate market, particularly over the last year.
“We’ve seen record growth overall in sales,” said Christ Peters, president of Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.
“When you look at what prices are selling for – we’ve seen Halifax home prices increase anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent depending on where you are in HRM.”
And it’s not just in price where things have changed. House in HRM are on the market for fewer days, with most houses receiving multiple offers above asking in less than a week.
Peters says COVID-19 has certainly played a role in the boom this past year.
“You’re finding a lot of people being able to work remotely thus being stuck to an urban centre or big city core isn’t required,” said Peters.
“So if someone wants to be able to sell their home in downtown Toronto for their one-bedroom condo that they spent $600,000 on, you can buy a very spacious three-four bedroom home in Atlantic Canada.”
It’s no doubt a sellers market, but with rising house prices and a rising population, it is taking a toll on the more vulnerable populations.
“What we’re seeing very much is that affordable units can’t be found they just don’t exist,” said Miia Suokonautio, the executive director for the YWCA.
Affordable housing has been a problem for years in Halifax, especially over the past several years where Halifax’s rental market has seen it’s vacancy rate drop to one per cent.
“People are getting pushed out of the city, and going into communities that have been traditionally more affordable, but even those communities we’re starting to see shifts in terms of house prices,” said Suokonautio.
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“The population growth is simply exacerbating everything we’re seeing right now.”
Mayor Mike Savage admits that affordable housing, and housing affordability are challenges, but the city is working to address them.
“We need to make sure we look at the whole sector of housing,” he said.
“We’ve had an issue of defining affordability, kind of crazy that that would slow us down, but the key now is to have many more units at the lowest cost all the way up to mid-level costs.”
Despite challenges that come with a growing population, Savage says ultimately it’s good for the city. Even with many industries struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Halifax saw more jobs added this year than were lost which puts ultimately puts the region in a better position to recover quickly after the pandemic.