The number of apartments being built in Canada has exploded over the past five years according to newly-released Census data. Photo: Elton / Adobe Stock

The number of apartments being built in Canada has exploded over the past five years according to newly-released Census data.

On April 27th, Statistics Canada published its second series of results from the 2021 Census, which includes the types of dwelling Canadians are living in.

The number of units within a high-rise apartment building — structures with five storeys or more — have increased 14.7 per cent from 2016 to 2021. This is more than double the total growth of private dwellings, which have risen 6.4 per cent over the same five-year timeline. Between 2016 and 2021, row houses grew 10 per cent.

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In 2021, apartments accounted for 34.4 per cent of dwellings, up more than four per cent compared to 30.1 per cent in 1981. When it comes to building permits, more than half of the permits issued between 2016 and 2021 were for apartments. Before 2011, apartments only made up less than 40 per cent of building permits.

“The rapid increase in the number of apartments is expected to continue in the future, and even accelerate,” noted the Census report.

Higher housing prices, smaller household sizes, expanding urbanization and Canada’s aging population have been driving the creation of apartments, the Census data explained. However, single-detached properties continue to be the most common dwelling type in Canada, making up 52.6 per cent of the total number of dwellings, about 7.9 million homes.

Apartments account for large portion of Canada’s urban centres

Apartments represent a significant and growing segment of the housing market in Canada’s biggest urban communities.

Between 2016 and 2021, the number of apartments drastically outnumbered the quantity of single-family homes in British Columbia. Over the 2021 Census’ five-year period, the number of apartments within high-rise apartment buildings in B.C. grew more than five times faster than the number of single-detached houses, rising 24.8 per cent versus 4.3 per cent.

“Housing prices in British Columbia are among the highest in the country, and an increasing number of houses have been converted into semi-detached houses or apartments, especially in the large urban centre of Vancouver,” explained the Census report.

As of last year, B.C. had the lowest proportion of single-detached houses nationwide at 42.4 per cent. Compared to 1981, this marks a 20 per cent drop from 62.4 per cent, the largest decrease in Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan had the highest proportions of single-detached houses, at 72.3 per cent and 71.6 per cent.

Graph: Census of Population, 2016 and 2021, Statistics Canada. The “Other” category includes mobile dwellings and other single-attached houses.

In Toronto, three in 10 dwellings — 30.7 per cent — are units within a high-rise apartment building, the highest proportion among Canada’s large urban centres.

By comparison, in Kelowna, Chilliwack, Nanaimo and Kamloops — four fast-growing, large urban centres — apartments in buildings with five or more storeys represented less than three per cent of all occupied dwellings, according to the Census.

For Kelowna specifically, the number of single-detached houses rose almost 10 per cent between 2016 and 2021, while the quantity of apartments in a building with less than five storeys increased 23.7 per cent. Kelowna recorded the strongest population growth over the past five years.

Quebec’s large urban centres have more apartments in buildings with less than five storeys — particularly Montréal — where these units comprise 41.3 per cent of private dwellings. Ottawa–Gatineau reported a high proportion of row houses at 16.3 per cent, more than double the proportion for all large urban centres at 7.8 per cent. In Moncton, one in 10 private dwellings, about 10.2 per cent, is a semi-detached house, twice the amount of all large urban centres at 5.4 per cent.

Increase in private dwellings surpasses population growth

According to the 2021 Census, the number of private dwellings being built in Canada has risen faster than the number of people living in those homes.

Between 2016 and 2021, the growth of private dwellings increased 6.4 per cent, at least one per cent higher than the growth of the population living in those dwellings, which rose 5.4 per cent over the same time period.

“This is not new; at the national level this trend has been observed since at least the early 1950s,” said the Census report. “From the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, the number of private dwellings grew at more than twice the rate of the population. At the time, the many baby boomer cohorts in Canada were leaving their parents’ home and starting their own family.”

Falling household sizes as a result of the sharp decline in fertility since the end of the baby boom is one of the reasons private dwellings have outpaced the population in recent decades. Other factors include baby boom cohorts moving into their own dwellings and the construction of smaller homes in Canada’s large urban areas.

However, at the regional level, the Census pointed out that population growth in some communities can surpass the increase in the number of dwellings.

Despite the rise in the quantity of private dwellings, Statistics Canada acknowledged that Canadian real estate markets are under increasing pressure, particularly urban centres where populations are rising faster. Foreign real estate investment, short-term apartment rentals and an increase in people who own a second residence have also added to the pressure, according to the report. Young adults, especially those who have or want to start a family, feel real estate tensions the most.

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