Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

The GTA badly needs homes, but most neighbourhoods are barely growing

Commentary

It’s no surprise to anyone that the Greater Toronto Area is short on housing. One need only ask renters or first-time homebuyers whether enough homes are available to rent or buy, and at prices they can afford.

Indeed, the GTA-wide rental vacancy rate (a measure of rental unit availability) was 1.7 percent for purpose-built rental units and 1.1 percent for rented condominiums in 2022, well below Canada’s three-decade average of 3.2 percent. Predictably, rents have risen sharply, hurting all renters but especially the most vulnerable.

Clear demand for housing in Canada’s largest urban region raises important questions about supply. How many homes are built in the GTA, and where?

In recently-published research, we answer these questions using data from the two most recent censuses, conducted in 2016 and 2021. In total, the number of homes across GTA communities grew by roughly 160,000 homes over this period—a seven percent increase. We further divided this growth across the GTA’s 1,227 census tracts (neighbourhood-sized urban geographies).

As it turns out, the GTA’s housing stock growth (the change in the number of homes region-wide) was far from evenly distributed. In fact, more than half of all housing stock growth occurred in Downtown Toronto or at the urban fringe of far-flung suburbs such as Vaughan, Markham, Brampton, Milton, and Pickering. Meanwhile, the bulk of census tracts located in between these two areas barely grew at all.

The geographic distribution of housing stock growth between 2016 and 2021 was highly concentrated within a three-kilometre radius of Union Station and on the urban fringe—34 kilometres from Union Station and beyond. The 270 census tracts located in these areas added 304 homes, on average, between 2016 and 2021, while the 957 census tracts located between 3 and 34 kilometres from Union Station added just 80 homes, on average, with many even losing more homes than they added. This “donut” pattern of growth has several policy implications as the region attempts to overcome a generational housing shortage.

First, slow-growing central neighbourhoods and communities can accommodate a lot more housing. In fact, well over one third (370 out of 957) census tracts located between three and 34 kilometres from Union Station exhibited a net loss of housing between the last two censuses. It’s one thing to argue that a neighbourhood is already “full,” and thus can’t add anymore housing, but it’s hard to see how allowing desirable neighbourhoods to lose homes is justified.

Second, the steep decline in housing stock growth immediately outside the regional core (Downtown Toronto) is a strong indication of policy barriers to homebuilding in otherwise highly desirable neighbourhoods, rather than implying weaker demand to live there. Our research shows that census tracts between two and three kilometres from Union Station added more than 12,000 homes between 2016 and 2021, while tracts between three and four kilometres from Union Station added fewer than 3,000 homes. For context, this includes neighbourhoods such as the Annex, Rosedale and Cabbagetown—among the most expensive in Canada.

Third, faster-growing pockets in more distant communities are partially reflective of deliberate efforts to develop additional nodes of transport and commerce beyond the regional core, but could also be the result of insufficient homebuilding in desirable central neighbourhoods. Intuitively, it is likely that some percentage of households residing in outlying areas do so as a result of insufficient or unaffordable housing options closer to the regional core, which concentrates a higher proportion of the GTA’s employment, educational, commercial and entertainment features.

Empirically, past research measuring the link between land-use regulation and housing supply found that many parts of Brampton and York Region would have grown more slowly between 2006 and 2011 had regulatory barriers such as lengthy, uncertain project approval timelines and local opposition been relaxed in neighbourhoods closer to the regional core.

To their credit, policymakers in Queen’s Park and at City Hall have taken notice. The province recently passed legislation aimed at making it easier to build more homes in existing neighbourhoods, most notably by allowing up to three housing units on most single-family lots. Toronto has gone one step further by allowing up to four units “as-of-right” (that is, without the need to rezone). These are important measures, but by no means perfect. Beyond the number of units allowed by local zoning bylaws, a raft of stipulations limit the size, style and shape of buildings, as well as the number of parking spaces required. In other words, there’s a whole lot more that could be done to “unlock” more housing in slow-growing neighbourhoods across the GTA and beyond.

Relatively fast housing stock growth Downtown and in select outlying districts plays an important role in closing the gap between demand and supply, but given the magnitude of unmet need for housing in Canada’s largest urban region and primary port of entry, all governments have a role to play in enabling the construction of more homes across more neighbourhoods and communities.

‘These wars will just go on dividing us as a people’: The best comments from Hub readers this week

Commentary

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement that the government would exempt heating oil from the carbon tax for three years sparked relief in the Atlantic Provinces, outrage in the rest of Canada, and some great conversations on Hub Forum. And, of course, the Israel-Hamas war continues to dominate the discourse around the world.

The goal of Hub Forum is to bring the impressive knowledge and experience of The Hub community into one place and with that in mind, here are some of the most interesting comments this week.

Sign up for our daily Hub Forum email newsletter today.

Study finds vaccine passports had little effect, while the mandate debate rages on

Monday, October 30, 2023

“The pandemic showed us how interconnected we are. This virus spread rapidly over the globe and is still moving quickly, mutating and infecting thousands. There is a communal responsibility which overrides individual freedoms. Without a sense of community there are no freedoms.”

A. Chezzi

“Science produces validated data and explanations for why things work the way they do. Those models allow scientists to predict what will likely happen if certain conditions occur – i.e. x% more interaction within the population will result in y% more infections and z% more hospital admissions.

But science makes no decisions regarding what to do. That is the realm of politics (the total complex of relations between people living in society). Science doesn’t decide if mandates (or which mandates) are acceptable limitations on individual freedom, whether a certain number of companies going out of business due to lock downs is an acceptable trade off, whether working parents can manage online schooling, etc.”

Gord Edwards

The Liberals have kneecapped the carbon tax. Now we need walkable cities more than ever

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

“The crafting of neighborhoods that encourage low carbon use would have so many more benefits than reducing the residents’ carbon footprints. We should indeed install more gates in the “zoning fence”, allowing communities to pick this low hanging fruit.”

Rob Tyrrell

“I don’t share the author’s view that better urban planning has much to do CO2 global emissions (much less “improving” the climate), but it would improve our quality of life and leave more of our landscape available for nature. I’d love to a see a return of traditional walkable neighbourhoods with corner shops and local parks.”

Raj Bharati

The carbon tax is dead

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

“Pitting one region against other parts of the country for the sake of a few seats in Parliament is hardly the stuff of nation building, let alone responsible governance. When political expediency trumps policy, it’s just a matter of time before there will be more than just a tax being shown the door.”

RJKWells

“The Carbon Tax necessity is diminishing. It is the accountability of spending public monies requiring attention. The use of this tax is not disclosed. Climate change has been been occurring since ‘day one’. To control that particular beauty is very faulty and perhaps naive.” If our Federal Government really wish to meet it’s aggressive carbon emission reduction targets, rather than just adding additional carbon taxes, it could synergize with other levels of governments within Canada and show real leadership by providing citizens a real cost effective way to share its’s national carbon emission reduction plan.”

Arthur

Cancel culture is a two-way street

Thursday, November 2, 2023

“There are as many on the right as there are on the left who are not reading, who are not critical thinkers, who are repeating ad nauseam the talking points of those they support. Talking points are not fact and using talking points is an intellectual failure. There is right and wrong on both sides of the culture wars and until we are willing admit that, these wars will just go on dividing us as a people. Let’s stop pointing the finger at each other and take the time to hear what we have in common so we can build a better future.”

A. Chezzi

“To even hint that freedom of speech should be limited is troubling to me. Rather, I propose that freedom of speech always be viewed through a moral prism. While I accept that the political situation in Gaza sucks, and that people might want to speak out to represent this, morality should always prevail. While proposing genocide might feel to activists as a sign of unrestrained strength and resolve, it also sends a message of warped or non-existent morality. I wish for all to remain civil.”

— Jacques Décarie

We are witnessing the future of war on the battlefields of Ukraine

Friday, November 3, 2023

“Regardless of the technology on the battlefield, engagement in warfare is ultimately achieving objectives by causing your opponent as much pain and destruction as possible until they are effectively destroyed or capitulate.

The technology may change but ‘pain and destruction’ will remain as long as warfare remains. I’m not sure how advanced battlefield technology in itself reduces the likelihood of hot wars, with the exception of wars involving mutually assured destruction technologies.

Rather, mutual economic well-being achieved through reliable and low-friction international trade has made large scale conventional hot wars rare.”

Rob Tyrrell