Renters in Canada are three times more likely to be in need of adequate housing than owners

Haider-Moranis: At least 1.6 million, or 10%, of Canadian households were housing disadvantaged

Apartment dwellers, persons living alone, renters and visible minorities are more likely to be housing disadvantaged in Canada, according to data released by Statistics Canada in early October, which has identified cohorts whose core housing needs are being increasingly unmet.

The Canadian Housing Survey (CHS), sponsored by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), collects information on housing adequacy and affordability and found that at least 1.6 million, or 10 per cent, of Canadian households were housing disadvantaged. (The survey, which will be conducted biennially until 2028, used data collected in 2018.)

Households living in inadequate (requiring repairs), unaffordable and unsuitable (crowding, not enough bedrooms) dwellings are deemed in core housing need if they cannot afford an alternative home in their community that is adequate and suitable. Thus, the housing disadvantaged are those who are unable to find any housing commensurate with their circumstances.

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One of the survey’s starkest findings showed that renter households were more than three times likely to be housing needy than owner households.

Almost one in four renter households (23 per cent) lived in a dwelling that did not suit their family size or budget. By comparison, only 6.5 per cent of owners were considered housing disadvantaged. Among renters, a greater proportion of those living in social and affordable housing was in core housing need (33 per cent) than other renters (21 per cent).

Differences in demographics, incomes, structural types of housing and other attributes explain why large differences exist between owners and renters. Consider that renter household incomes, on average, are less than those for owner households.

Differences in income dictate choices about the structural type and tenure of housing. For example, almost 70 per cent of renters in social and affordable housing occupied an apartment, compared to 46 per cent of other renters.

Similarly, certain demographic traits influence or partially determine the economic well-being of households. Race, marital status and household size are strong determinants of household income, which, in turn, influences the adequacy of a household’s dwelling. A breakdown by race revealed that racial minority households (14 per cent) were twice as likely to be housing disadvantaged than others.

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The financial and housing well-being of visible minorities in Canada has only worsened because of COVID-19. In September, thelabour force survey revealed that the unemployment rate among those identifying as Arabs, Blacks and Southeast Asians was at least 77 per cent higher than those not designated as visible minorities.

Persons living alone are also more likely to be in core housing need than others. Almost 22 per cent of one-person households were deemed housing disadvantaged, compared to 7.6 per cent of two-person households and 5.9 per cent of couple households with children.

Although core housing needs are derived from three dimensions, housing affordability is the most frequent dimension. Of those in core housing need, three out of four households could not meet the affordability criteria.

The CHS does not offer a breakdown by cities, but other data sources identify the uneven affordability landscape across Canada.

RBC Economic Research‘s June 2019 housing trends and affordability report revealed less than 20 per cent of Toronto and Vancouver families earned enough to buy an average home in their communities, while more than 50 per cent of families living in Saskatoon, Halifax and Quebec City earned enough to buy a recently sold average home.

One appreciates the draw of big cities in terms of the culture, leisure and work opportunities they offer. Yet, it all comes at a cost that most workers can’t afford.

Recentcoverage in the news media has highlighted the virtues of long-term renting. The core housing needs data offer a conflicting perspective. Not all renters rent by choice. But those who do must contemplate the consequences of renting for the long term.
Murtaza Haider is a professor of Real Estate Management at Ryerson University. Stephen Moranis is a real estate industry veteran. They can be reached at
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