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Home affordability in Canada reaching acute levels, latest bank research suggests

Soaring home prices in Toronto and its surrounding region are making Canada’s national housing affordability acute, hitting record levels in some locations, according to new research.

Indeed, the housing affordability measure reached record levels in Toronto at 72% in the first quarter of 2017, up from 69.2% in the previous quarter and exceeding the previous peak of 70.6% in 1990.

The data from the Royal Bank of Canada also shows that nationally the affordability level was 45.9%, the second highest since 1990 and this comes at a time when it is forecasting that property prices are set to rise by 7.8% in 2017.

‘Only once since 1990 have Canadian households had to spend this much on ownership costs, clearly underscoring the degree to which rapidly rising prices have squeezed housing affordability over the past year,’ said Craig Wright, senior vice-president and chief economist at RBC.

He pointed out that several other markets in Southern Ontario also saw rapidly rising home ownership costs related to Toronto’s overheating. An influx of buyers coming from the Toronto area in markets such as Hamilton, St. Catharines and Kitchener-Waterloo drove up prices considerably.

‘Toronto’s frenzied housing market further strayed from economic fundamentals in the first quarter,’ he said, adding that Ontario’s Fair Housing plan announced in April should bring some sanity back to the market, although its impact on affordability in the Greater Toronto area may take up to two or three quarters to be felt.

In Vancouver, affordability improved for the second quarter in a row, down to 79.7% from 80.9% in the fourth quarter of 2016. The report suggests that while still the least affordable market in Canada, the series of policy measures introduced last year to cool the market have had a positive effect.

In most Canadian markets outside of Ontario and British Columbia, affordability levels remained relatively stable in the first quarter, with slight improvement in many Prairie markets and marginal deterioration in most of Quebec and the Atlantic region.

The RBC is forecasting that both sales and prices will fall this year and in 2018. Sales are forecast to fall by around 9% in 2018 and with fewer transactions taking place home prices are forecast to only increase marginally.

It predicts that prices will rise by 7.8% this year before falling back to just 1.2% in 2018. Both down from the 9.6% recorded in 2016. Extra taxes on foreign buyers introduced in both Vancouver and Toronto are cooling prices in these cities.

If the bank’s forecast is accurate, 2018 will be the first year that home prices in Canada have risen by less than 2% since 2009, when property values fell, albeit marginally, amid economic turmoil caused by the global financial crisis.