Evolution of housing in Canada, 1957 to 2014

Canadian Megatrends

For most of their history, Canadian cities have grown outward as waves of immigrants and the baby boom generation sought homes in the ever-expanding suburbs. Today, urban growth is not so much moving outward as it is upward, as multi-family dwelling units, especially apartments and apartment-condominiums, have transformed the skylines of Canadian cities.

The emergence of apartments and apartment-condominiums in Canada's largest urban centres not only reflects a lifestyle choice, but also important demographic, economic and societal changes—increasing immigration, declining household size, changing household characteristics, an aging population, high prices of single-family homes in some areas, land shortages and development policies in Canada's major cities.

Type of dwelling has changed over time

Chart 1: Building permits, single-family and multi-family dwelling units, Canada, 1957 to 2014

Chart 1: Building permits, single-family and multi-family dwelling units, Canada, 1957 to 2014
Description for Chart 1
Chart 1 - Building Permits, single-family and multi-family dwelling units, Canada, 1957 to 2014
Years Singles, including mobile homes Multiples
1957 60,044 38,861
1958 86,787 58,724
1959 74,368 51,392
1960 49,461 42,085
1961 64,458 46,646
1962 58,625 60,194
1963 67,398 76,319
1964 67,666 94,240
1965 66,011 99,152
1966 61,958 70,421
1967 65,441 95,781
1968 70,136 132,083
1969 65,765 126,644
1970 60,119 116,085
1971 86,763 141,305
1972 96,489 142,906
1973 112,428 154,123
1974 102,064 91,989
1975 118,635 116,983
1976 123,900 133,902
1977 106,768 141,942
1978 105,357 107,818
1979 102,227 81,600
1980 87,527 65,848
1981 83,895 104,458
1982 56,283 58,030
1983 92,195 59,797
1984 79,714 54,228
1985 97,563 66,829
1986 118,929 86,797
1987 132,380 107,873
1988 129,361 96,895
1989 126,842 88,290
1990 95,965 72,887
1991 88,377 72,241
1992 92,507 71,266
1993 85,644 67,423
1994 88,810 63,176
1995 63,744 45,552
1996 78,806 49,233
1997 94,520 54,760
1998 88,713 54,166
1999 94,539 58,098
2000 92,476 56,226
2001 97,792 64,385
2002 126,324 82,897
2003 121,543 94,556
2004 129,389 106,227
2005 120,976 112,415
2006 118,336 109,180
2007 115,891 117,056
2008 93,610 104,851
2009 80,422 78,523
2010 91,908 103,469
2011 82,718 108,069
2012 83,825 119,918
2013 75,163 122,908
2014 73,682 122,540

The suburban home of the 1950s

In the 1950s, single-family homes dominated the housing landscape. From 1957 to 1959, they accounted for 60% of new construction. The introduction of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's mortgage loan insurance model in 1954 made single-family homes more attainable, which increased demand for new suburban neighbourhoods.

The apartment boom of the 1960s

A major shift occurred from 1962 to 1973, with the majority of building permits (60%) being issued for multi-family dwellings. The shift reflected the large population growth of the post-war economic boom. Increased demand for housing came from the baby boom generation, born in the late 1940s to the mid-1960s, as well as two groups of new immigrants: European immigrants in the 1950s, and the large inflow of immigrants following the introduction of the Economic Point System in 1967. The affordability of multi-family properties likely made them an attractive alternative to single-family dwellings.

Residential construction aligns in the 1970s

Construction of new multi-family units fell at a faster rate than single-family dwellings from 1974 to 1982, particularly during the recession of the mid-1970s. In 1974, the number of new multi-family units declined 40% to 91,989 units, following a peak of 154,123 units in 1973. From 1974 to 1982, single-family and multi-family dwellings accounted for an equal proportion of new dwellings.

The return of the single-family home in the 1980s

The period of 1983 to 2006 saw slower population growth and higher construction intentions for single-family dwellings. Residential construction decreased during the 1981–1982 recession when mortgage lending rates were at their peak. However, while single-family dwellings experienced a quicker recovery following the recession, multi-family unit construction continued to decline. In 1984, there were fewer multi-family units constructed (54,228) than at any other point in the previous 20-year period. Mortgage lending rates began dropping sharply in late 1982, which meant that more people were able to afford single-family homes.

The recession and slow recovery of the 1990s

Residential building construction decreased again during the 1990–1991 recession, although, in contrast to the 1981–1982 recession, construction intentions for both single- and multi-family dwellings were slow to recover. It took 15 years for both types of dwellings to reach levels comparable to their pre-recession peak of the late 1980s.

Apartment-condominium construction intentions rise in the new millennium

Contrary to popular belief, a condominium is a system of ownership and not a type of building. It refers to an individual dwelling unit that is privately owned, but in a building and/or on land that is collectively owned by all dwelling-unit owners. Therefore, each of the main types of residential building—single-family houses, apartments, doubles and row houses—can be condominiums.

Chart 2: Building permits, condominium construction intentions, Canada, 1992 to 2014

Chart 2: Building permits, condominium construction intentions, Canada, 1992 to 2014
Description for Chart 2
Chart 2 - Building permits, condominium construction intentions, Canada, 1992 to 2014
Years Apartment-condominium Double-condominium Row-condominium
1992 10,142 159 3,369
1993 12,138 556 7,302
1994 12,593 885 5,769
1995 9,430 125 2,523
1996 11,069 62 1,181
1997 6,874 194 1,790
1998 9,063 419 1,883
1999 7,604 327 2,465
2000 3,977 130 2,274
2001 4,391 295 2,254
2002 1,3074 758 3,707
2003 15,756 625 5,755
2004 12,270 595 6,468
2005 14,377 556 6,371
2006 16,055 425 4,998
2007 19,442 507 5,584
2008 25,254 345 4,861
2009 18,257 229 2,742
2010 19,914 265 4,556
2011 19,260 185 3,434
2012 26,194 265 3,521
2013 27,539 171 4,041
2014 33,801 294 4,113

At the national level, apartment-condominiums have increasingly become the dominant type of condominium construction since the early 2000s. They accounted for 88% of condominium construction intentions in 2014, compared to 62% in 2000.

Apartment-condominiums provide concentrated housing in Canada's census metropolitan areas (CMAs), where there may be limited land available for new residential construction. Also, since immigration is now the major source of population growth in Canada, and most immigrants settle in large CMAs, apartment-condominiums may fulfill the newcomer demand for housing.

The relative affordability of apartment-condominiums compared with row, double and, especially, single-family dwellings makes them accessible for first-time buyers, as well as a downsizing option for older households, since they require less upkeep. Condominium owners, compared with other homeowners, are more likely to be younger or older, have a lower household income, and to be classified as non-family or couple-only households.

More multi-family dwellings since the 2008–2009 recession

Since the 2008–2009 recession, construction rates for multi-family dwellings have recovered at a faster pace than single-family dwellings—increasing in four of the five years following the recession. The number of planned multi-family dwellings (103,469) surpassed single-family dwellings (91,908) in 2010, and peaked in 2013 with the highest number of units (122,908) since 1977. On the other hand, single-family dwelling construction fell to 73,682 units in 2014, its lowest point in almost 20 years.

Apartments account for the largest share of construction intentions for three consecutive years

Since 2012, apartments (including apartment-condominiums) have had the highest construction intentions in Canada, which has not occurred since 1973. Over the past 40 years, apartments and single-family homes have accounted for the vast majority (85% on average) of new construction, whereas rows and doubles accounted for about 15% of new construction.

Chart 3: Building permits, type of dwelling, Canada, 1972 to 2014

Chart 3: Building permits, type of dwelling, Canada, 1972 to 2014
Note: Each dwelling type includes those with a condominium ownership.
Description for Chart 3
Chart 3 - Building Permits, type of dwelling, Canada, 1972 to 2014
Years Singles, including mobile homes Double Row Apartments
1972 96,489 15,919 16,623 110,364
1973 112,428 14,185 16,077 123,861
1974 102,064 11,731 13,944 66,314
1975 118,635 16,725 19,460 80,798
1976 123,900 16,386 27,726 89,790
1977 106,768 19,782 24,307 97,853
1978 105,357 18,469 17,263 72,086
1979 102,227 15,828 11,521 54,251
1980 87,527 10,360 9,227 46,261
1981 83,895 11,698 17,575 75,185
1982 56,283 6,072 10,854 41,104
1983 92,195 6,489 9,936 43,372
1984 79,714 5,455 7,816 40,957
1985 97,563 6,353 10,169 50,307
1986 118,929 8,065 9,915 68,817
1987 132,380 9,319 16,090 82,464
1988 129,361 7,784 15,709 73,402
1989 126,842 7,659 14,991 65,640
1990 95,965 6,938 14,790 51,159
1991 88,377 8,578 16,060 47,603
1992 92,507 9,370 17,140 44,756
1993 85,644 9,572 18,434 39,417
1994 88,810 11,122 16,752 35,302
1995 63,744 6,709 12,154 26,689
1996 78,806 8,874 14,073 26,286
1997 94,520 9,907 17,409 27,444
1998 88,713 9,005 14,530 30,631
1999 94,539 9,867 14,959 33,272
2000 92,476 10,067 16,207 29,952
2001 97,792 10,713 14,491 39,181
2002 126,324 11,411 19,568 51,918
2003 121,543 12,631 20,580 61,345
2004 129,389 11,834 22,997 71,396
2005 120,976 11,526 23,197 77,692
2006 118,336 11,002 21,665 76,513
2007 115,891 11,390 23,263 82,403
2008 93,610 9,612 19,903 75,336
2009 80,422 9,079 14,156 55,288
2010 91,908 10,634 20,222 72,613
2011 82,718 9,952 18,263 79,854
2012 83,825 11,710 21,011 87,197
2013 75,163 9,827 20,538 92,543
2014 73,682 11,325 22,586 88,629

Apartments have the highest construction intentions in the three largest census metropolitan areas

In 2014, there were higher construction intentions for apartments (including apartment-condominiums) than for any other dwelling type in Canada's three largest CMAs. In Toronto, they accounted for 54% of residential construction, compared with 27% for single-family homes. In Montréal, apartment units accounted for 75% of residential construction, compared with 16% for single-family homes. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, it was 67% for apartment units and 16% for single-family homes. These three CMAs accounted for just over half of the total CMA population in 2014. In all three CMAs, new single-family dwellings have been declining since the early 2000s, falling from 27,627 dwellings in 2000 to 14,840 in 2014—a 46% decrease.

The affordability and availability of apartments relative to other building types, particularly single-family dwellings, could explain the recent increase in apartments in these CMAs, particularly in Canada's two most expensive housing markets: Vancouver and Toronto. 

Note to readers

Data source

Statistics Canada's monthly Building Permits Survey is a leading indicator of residential construction in Canada. The survey collects administrative data on construction intentions from all municipalities that issue building permits, which currently accounts for approximately 95% of the Canadian population. The data can be used by analysts to understand the number and value of new residential units for both single- and multi-family dwellings, the latter comprised of double or semi-detached, row, and apartment dwellings. Data on condominium construction is also collected, and has been disseminated by type of dwelling (row-condominium, double-condominium, single-condominium, and apartment-condominium) since 1992.

All graphs in this publication use annual data, and, therefore, are comparable without being seasonally adjusted.


Definitions

Building permit: refers to the final authorization to start work on a building project. It is granted by public authorities in response to an application by a principal and based on a specific building plan.

Residential construction: Refers to all buildings intended for private occupancy, whether on a permanent basis or not. Dwellings are divided into the following types: single-family, mobile, cottage, semi-detached or double, row house and apartment.

References

Brown, W. M. and A. Lafrance. 2013. Trends in homeownership by Age and Household Income: Factors associated with the decision to own, 1981 to 2006. Economic Analysis Research Paper Series. Statistics Canada. Catalogue 11F0027M No. 083.

Cross, P. 2010. Slowdowns during periods of economic growth. Canadian Economic Observer. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 11-010-X.

LeVasseur, S. and J. Situ. 2013. Condominium dwellings in Canada. National Household Survey in Brief Series. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 99-014-X2011003.

Martel, L. 2014. Population growth: Migratory increase overtakes natural increase. Canadian Megatrends. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 11-630-X.

Statistics Canada. 2014. Table 051-0056—Estimates of population by census metropolitan area, sex and age group for July 1, based on the Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) 2011, annual (persons).

Contact information

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Taryn Read-Hobman (613-291-8501), Investment, Science and Technology Division.

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