Statistics Canada says the country’s homeownership rate is on the decline, with young adults in particular less likely to own a home in 2021 than they were in 2011.
According to the latest census release, two-thirds of Canadians owned a home in 2021, down from a peak of 69 per cent a decade earlier.
The decline in homeownership rates between 2011 and 2021 was the largest for younger Canadians, with the rate falling from 44.1 to 36.5 for those between the ages of 25 and 29.
Canadians between the ages of 30 and 34 experienced a similar but slightly smaller decline in homeownership, falling from 59.2 per cent to 52.3 per cent.
Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor at Western University’s Ivey School of Business, said that illustrates why the overall homeownership rate is not as useful for understanding recent trends.
“As people get older, they’re more likely to own a home,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s going to be important to break down the data by age cohort.”
Rising rental rates reflect 'dysfunctional housing system': analyst
Meanwhile, the renter rate increased. Statistics Canada says the number of renter households grew at more than twice the rate of owner households between 2011 and 2021.
The data does not come as a surprise to Paul Kershaw, associate professor at the University of British Columbia and founder of Generation Squeeze, which studies the barriers preventing young and newcomer Canadians from entering the housing market.
He says that while many liveable cities around the world see high household rental rates by design, the situation in Canada is not the result of affordable housing policies.
“Yes, renting is on the rise, but that is a reflection of when homeownership is out of reach,” he tells Global News.
“We have a dysfunctional housing system, a system that erodes affordability for ownership. The consolation prize then becomes more rent, more renters. And as there’s more competition for scarce rentals, rents have been on the rise.”
Brittany MacKenzie, a real estate agent in Fredericton, N.B., said she’s noticed a shift in the attitudes of young people hoping to become homebuyers as prices have risen.
“I have found that a lot of our younger buyers have been hesitant now and have exited and decided to rent for a little bit,” she said.
The federal agency also says newly built homes are increasingly likely to be occupied by renters, with 40.4 per cent of new homes built between 2016 and 2021 now rented out.
Statistics Canada also compared monthly shelter costs of renters and homeowners and found those costs rose faster for renters than homeowners in the latest census period.
The median monthly shelter cost for renters went up 17.6 per cent between 2016 and 2021, outpacing inflation, as the consumer price index rose by 9.5 per cent over that same period. For homeowners, the median monthly shelter cost went up by 9.7 per cent.
The current setup of Canada’s housing system privileges homeowners, who are able to shelter wealth accumulation in their homes rather than paying rapidly rising rents, Kershaw argues.
“Renting itself isn’t a problem, but the quality of what people can rent is a really big issue and and what they’re having to pay for that rent is such a big issue because it then erodes their ability to save down the line,” he says.
Housing affordability actually improved in 2021, but one in five renters still spent more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter costs.
Statistics Canada says the improvement in affordability was the most pronounced for low-income renters and can be largely attributed to temporary COVID-19 income supports.
Moffatt said the data doesn’t give an accurate depiction of housing affordability because of these support measures.
“It’s going to be quite misleading just because people were receiving this sort of one-time boost to incomes,” Moffatt said.
Tuesday’s census release should be a wake-up call for older Canadians who have profited from the status quo, Kershaw says, and who want to see their children and grandchildren afforded the same housing opportunities they were when they entered the housing market a generation ago.
“I need the older parts of Canada right now who love their kids and grandchildren to say, ‘Gosh, these data are worrisome. This isn’t the legacy that I wanted to leave. I didn’t intend for my generation to extract so much wealth from our housing system that we’re leaving so less affordability left over for our kids and grandchildren,'” he says.
“That’s what the data show us today.”
— with files from Global News’ Craig Lord