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A nation of apartment dwellers

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) recently published its latest data on housing starts, housing under construction, and housing completions. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Canada saw 271k housing starts last year (2021). This includes single-detached housing and multiples, which captures semi-detached housing, row housing, and apartments (and other unit types). This is the highest number of annual housing starts that we have seen over the last five years. The range for the prior years has been between roughly 209-220k.
  • Ontario saw 100k (~37% of the country), Quebec saw 68k (~25% of the country), and British Columbia saw 48k (~18% of the country).
  • What I was curious about when I first saw these numbers was the split across the various housing types. Single-family homes, for instance, came in at 82k for all of Canada. So that’s about 30% of total housing starts. If you add in semi-detached and row, which I believe would also be all grade-related, you get to 124k or 46% of all housing starts.
  • Apartments and other unit types make up the balance at about 147k or 54% of all housing starts. This is kind of interesting because they now represent a majority.
  • Looking at Ontario, the percentage of apartments actually drops to 50%. But the numbers are much higher in both Quebec and BC at 69% and 63%, respectively. Again, this is kind of interesting.

Despite all of our deference to single-family housing, the numbers suggest that we are actually in the midst of building a different kind of country — one that entails people living in “apartments and other unit types.” Maybe it’s time we got more granular with this line item.

Note: CMHC defines “apartment and other unit types” to include not just apartments, but also stacked towns, duplexes, triplexes, double duplexes (whatever this is), and row duplexes. A number of these will, of course, be grade-related. But they still represent more intense forms of land use.

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