What the Census 2021 Data Can Tell Us About the Housing Market

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The population data from the census 2021 is now available and it offers us a wealth of information about where Canadians live, where they’re moving to and what communities are growing in size as a result. 

The latest census arrives at a critical time in Canada’s real estate history, when governments of all levels are weighing their options to boost supply and improve housing affordability. Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has also played a critical role in influencing the migration of Canadians, including those new to the country. 

“This type of information is critical in helping to answer many of the important questions being asked in Canada’s national housing conversation,” said Shaun Cathcart, Senior Economist and Director of Housing Data and Market Analysis with the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). “That conversation is going on right now, so in terms of helping to inform policy around one of the biggest issues facing the country going forward, the timing of the 2021 census couldn’t be better.” 

Here’s what can be learned about the Canadian housing market based on the 2021 census. 

Immigration, population growth takes off in the Maritimes

Over the last five years, Eastern Canada has seen remarkable population growth, a trend stemming from immigration and buyers seeking out lower housing prices. 

According to the 2021 census, Canada’s population grew at almost twice the rate of every other G7 country from 2016 to 2021, jumping 5.2% to about 36.9 million people. Compared to the last census conducted for 2011-2016, the rate of Canada’s population growth has increased slightly from 5%.. 

A large factor behind the nation’s booming population—despite the travel challenges caused by the pandemic—is immigration. About 80% of the country’s population growth over the past five years has resulted from newcomers and the other 20% from natural increase. 

Since 2016, the population of the Maritimes has seen levels of population growth not recorded in the last 50 years. The populations of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia increased at their fastest pace since the early 1970s, rising 3.8% and 5% between 2016 and 2021Prince Edward Island saw its population increase 8% over the same period to more than 154,000 people.

These provinces welcomed a record number of immigrants over the past five years, many prior to the pandemic. Although one-third to one-half of those who immigrated to the Maritimes moved to another province within five years of arrival, more people relocated to the Maritimes from other parts of Canada than those who moved away, a trend that intensified after the pandemic. Relatively lower housing prices may have been a factor in accelerating population growth, especially during COVID-19.

According to the census, “This change may be partly related to the increased possibility of working from home, combined with larger economic disruptions in other parts of Canada and the lower costs of housing in the Maritimes.”

According to CREA, the average price of a home grew 30.9%, 23.6%, and 8.5% year-over-year in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, respectively, as of February 2022. 

More Canadians live in urban areas while others relocate to suburbs

Compared to 2016, more Canadians are opting to live in or near urban areas.

As of 2021, there are 41 census metropolitan areas (CMAs) in Canada, up from 35 during the last census. Three in four Canadians (73.7%) now live in one of Canada’s large urban centres, and over one-third of Canadians—about 13.1 million people—reside in the country’s three largest CMAs, which include TorontoMontreal, and Vancouver. Vancouver saw its population grow 7.3% over five years, while both Toronto and Montreal’s populace increased 4%.

For the first time in six censuses, no CMA in Canada saw a drop in its population between 2016 to 2021.

The fastest-growing Canadian municipalities are those located inside or close to urban areas. For instance, East Gwillimbury, which is about 56 kilometres from Toronto, reported a population growth rate of 44% over five years, the highest nationwide. Outer-city municipalities like The Blue MountainsLangford, and Saint-Apollinaire also reported increases of 33.7%, 31.8%, and 30.4%, respectively, over the same time period. 

The census explains strong population growth in suburban areas near or in urban regions has been driven by an increase in young adults leaving urban communities to start families. Others may have been drawn to the more distant suburbs thanks to lower housing prices, more residential developments, or a desire to live closer to nature.

“With the increased ability to telework and the less frequent need to commute since the onset of the pandemic, some may have chosen to relocate to more distant suburbs where housing can provide more space for less cost than in central municipalities,” the census stated.

According to Patrick Pichette, Vice President of REALTOR.ca, the neighbourhood of a new home is often just as important to consumers as the property itself. Information from Statistics Canada and the census is often used to inform consumers on REALTOR.ca. 

“With it, not only do consumers have access to a variety of information about the immediate neighbourhood, but the community and city as a whole,” said Pichette. “They’re better equipped to determine whether the location of a property is right for them and their families.”

Larger homes and lower prices draw Canadians to distant suburbs

Although Canada’s population is rising, increases are not equal in all communities across the country.

Downtown areas are growing faster and more rapidly than before. From 2016 to 2021, the populations of downtowns grew at over twice the pace compared with the previous census cycle at a rate of 4.6%. While population growth slowed down in both suburban and urban areas at the onset of the pandemic, the suburbs experienced less of a decline in population. 

Overall, the suburbs located farthest from downtowns grew at the fastest pace—8.8% over five years—compared to the urban fringe (areas located less than a 10 minute drive from downtown) and suburbs located within a 10 to 20 minute drive from downtown regions, which reported 3.7% and 5.8% growth over five years. 

In Canada’s three largest urban centres, the distant suburbs grew at a faster pace than the urban fringe and suburbs situated closer to downtown, evidence that there is ongoing urban spread. The distant suburbs of Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal rose 9.4%, 9.5% and 7%, respectively, from 2016 to 2021. 

A variety of factors could be pushing populations higher in the outermost suburbs, one of which is the lower costs of housing, the desire for larger homes and space restrictions for new housing in downtown areas. 

“Higher housing prices may have tempted Canadians to move to more distant suburbs, where larger houses could be available at a lower cost than closer to downtown,” said the census

If you’re looking for insights about your local neighbourhood, consult the expertise of a REALTOR® for accurate information about new listings, amenities and population trends.

REALTOR.ca is the most popular and most trusted real estate website in Canada. Owned and operated by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), REALTOR.ca provides up-to-date and reliable information that makes finding your dream property easy and enjoyable. REALTOR.ca is popular with sellers, buyers, and renters and is accessible online and on mobile devices.


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