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How are condos in Canada used?

Jens von Bergmann (data analyst and mathematician); Nathanael Lauster (sociologist); and Douglas Harris (law professor) have been working since 2018 on a study of how condominiums are used and occupied across Canada. The goal is to use the results to better inform public and academic debate.

They recently presented some of their early findings at the National Housing Conference in Ottawa and have since made that information public. It is still a work in progress, but already there are some interesting takeaways. To start, here is a chart showing occupied housing units in Canada and in select CMAs:

Not surprisingly, Canada is broadly speaking a nation of single-detached houses. But in our three largest cities — Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver — apartments/condominiums are doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

Vancouver has the highest proportion of condominiums. It is a geographically constrained metro area and it is one of the first cities in the country to adopt condominiums as a housing tenure. And in Montreal, there are more apartments under 5 storeys than there are single-detached houses. Not surprising. There’s no “missing middle” in this city.

But the really interesting question is, how are these condominiums being used and occupied? It’s a challenging question to answer, which is why it’s so often debated, but here’s what the researchers have found so far:

The owner and renter categories are self-explanatory. Temporary, which is the least common type of tenure, is where the owner has declared their principal residence as being somewhere else. In other words, the condominium is a second home.

The vacant category is effectively that city’s condominium rental vacancy rate. These are condominium units which are empty, but that are at the same time listed for rent. There are relatively few of these. In Toronto and Vancouver they’re virtually non-existent in this dataset (2016).

Finally, we get to unoccupied units. This one is tricky and the researchers aren’t exactly clear on what is driving this number. They chalk it up, at least partially, to the flexible nature of condominiums. For example, it could be empty because the unit is switching from owner-occupied to rental, or vice versa.

That said, it is very interesting to note that Toronto and Vancouver actually have the lowest percentage of unoccupied condominium units. This may be surprising to some of you given the public discourse around investor units in these two cities.

Generally, they found that in Canada’s three largest metro areas, the following rule of thumb seems to apply: For every 10 condominium units built, 6 will become owner-occupied, 3 will enter the rental stock, and 1 will go unoccupied. Does that seem right to you?

If you’d like to dig into the methodology that the researchers used, you can do that over here at Mountain Doodles. All of the charts and data used in this post were taken from there.

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