Photo: Mike Benna / Unsplash

New York, London, Hong Kong — these are the international cities we tend to associate with the world’s most inaccessible housing markets. Yet again, two major Canadian cities find themselves ranking high as some of the most unaffordable communities around the globe.

Vancouver is the second-least affordable city in the world in 2020, according to findings published in the 16th annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey this week. Falling one place behind Hong Kong, Vancouver has a median multiple of 11.9, a measurement of median house prices divided by median household incomes, which places the west coast city in the survey’s ‘severely unaffordable’ category.

“Vancouver has experienced significant housing affordability deterioration among major markets, with its median multiple deteriorating from 5.3 to 11.9, equivalent to an additional 6.6 years of pre-tax median household income,” reads the Demographia report.

The Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey examines middle-income housing affordability using the median multiple across 309 metropolitan housing markets in eight countries: Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, Ireland, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Citing research from a 2019 RBC Economics Housing Affordability Report, the Demographia survey explains that Vancouver median income households would need to invest all of their pre-tax income into housing costs in order to afford a median priced house, triple the amount or more required in the Winnipeg, Halifax and Regina markets. Similarly, a median income household in Toronto would need 80 percent of all pre-tax income to afford the median-priced home.

Hong Kong, for the 10th year in a row, tops the list as the world’s least affordable housing market, with a median multiple of 20.8 for 2020. Toronto ranks sixth on the list with a median multiple of 8.6, a little less than Sydney (11.0), Melbourne (9.5) and Los Angeles (9.0), and tied with Auckland. This makes Ontario’s capital a less affordable city than San Jose (8.5), San Francisco (8.4) and London (8.2).

Toronto’s housing market has continued to become less affordable over the last 15 years, as the median multiple jumped from 8.3 to 8.6 in 2018, starting from 3.9 in 2004. Referring to the Foreign Buyers’ Tax that was implemented in 2017 by the Ontario Liberal government, Demographia notes that while housing prices have seen some stabilization, affordability continues to worsen in certain market segments.

“Since that time, Toronto’s house prices have become less volatile, especially in more expensive housing,” reads the survey. “However, housing affordability in Toronto has continued to deteriorate at the middle of the market.”

Across the Greater Toronto Area, housing affordability has spread from the most unaffordable centres, wading Hamilton (7.0), Guelph (6.5), Oshawa (5.9) and Peterborough (5.9) into ‘severely unaffordable’ territory. This marks a 40 percent to 90 percent affordability downturn in just a decade, according to Demographia. British Columbia markets have seen strikingly similar patterns throughout Victoria (8.1), the Fraser Valley (7.8) and Nanaimo (7.5).

The overall median multiple for Canada’s 50 markets is 3.9, which ranks us as ‘moderately unaffordable’ across the board, but is a slight improvement from the previous year’s median multiple of 4.0.

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