In 2021, the national vacancy rate was eight per cent, a few points off of 2001.Photo: karamysh / Adobe Stock

Fewer homes are sitting empty across the country.

New insights published by Point2 show that the number of unoccupied homes in Canada — while still quite high — has dropped since the previous census, down to levels recorded 20 years ago.

In its latest report, Point2 analysts studied the 10-year evolution of national vacancy rates and empty homes, as well as vacancy rates within Canada’s 150 largest cities. Population changes were also factored into the calculation.

The number of private dwellings that are not occupied by usual residents in Canada equals approximately 1.3 million properties, according to data sourced from Statistics Canada. In 2021, the national vacancy rate was eight per cent, a few points off of 2001 — 20 years ago — when Canada’s vacancy rate was 7.8 per cent.

Chart: Point2

For comparison, the vacancy rate was 8.7 per cent in 2016 and 8.6 per cent in 2011, five and 10 years ago. From a decade ago (2011), vacancy rates have dropped in 87 of Canada’s 150 most populous cities, remained the same in one city and have since increased in 62 large communities.

As Point2 notes, the existence of vacant dwellings — whether they are new condos, rental properties between tenants or vacation homes — may help to develop housing policies depending on local context.

“And considering the measures taken to reduce the number of empty homes — like Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax and the proposed Underused Housing Tax — the private dwellings that were still vacant in May 2021 might be, in a larger share, newly constructed homes ready for their new owners and tenants,” explained the report.

Vancouver vacancies drops 9% from a decade ago

Vancouver, which implemented its one per cent empty home tax in 2017, has reported changes to its vacancy rate.

Point2 says that the city’s vacancy levels are ​​down nine per cent from 2011. Compared to five years ago, vacancy rates were also down 14.5 per cent since 2016. The net number of Vancouver homes that were empty, underused or occupied by “not usual” residents fell since that year from 25,502 dwellings to 23,011 homes in 2021.

Saanich had the largest decrease in its vacancy rate nationwide, falling 53 per cent between 2011 and 2021. In British Columbia, the vacancy rates in Mission, West Kelowna and Langford dropped by similar amounts between 45 per cent and 44 per cent within the same time period.

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Kelowna and Victoria had vacancy rates of 7.3 per cent in 2021, which although are some of the highest levels in the province, were down 21 per cent and 27 per cent over a decade.

A province over, St. Albert in Alberta experienced the largest increase in vacancy rates over the last decade in Canada, rising 93 per cent from two per cent to four per cent.

In the last 10 years, the number of unoccupied or underused dwellings nearly or more than doubled in some of the prairie province’s cities, including Regina and Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, where vacancy rates increased 65 per cent and 73 per cent from 2011.

Majority of Ontario cities report decrease in unoccupied dwellings

Thirty-three large cities in Ontario reported that their share of unoccupied homes declined since 2011. Of the 150 large Canadian cities analyzed for the report, 60 are located in the province.

Windsor and Whitchurch-Stouffville tied for the biggest drop in vacancy rates in Ontario, each falling 38 per cent between 2011 and 2021. This was followed by Lakeshore, St. Thomas and Welland, where vacancies declined between 34 per cent and 33 per cent over the same period.

In Toronto, the vacancy rate increased to 36 per cent, up from five per cent in 2011 to seven per cent in 2021. Vacancies were up 14 per cent, 48 per cent and one per cent in Mississauga, Oakville and Ottawa over the last decade.

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