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Canadians busy with Boxing Day/Week sales and returning presents may be pleased to learn there is a gift from the federal housing agency that they will not have to line up to receive and that they will not have to pay for (except with their tax dollars). In one publication, you can read "a comprehensive statistical portrait of how well Canadians are housed" which outlines key developments affecting this vital sector of Canada's economy.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has released its flagship publication The Canadian Housing Observer 2005 to provide Canadians with "an integrated and objective view of the housing challenges and changing needs of Canadians" through statistics and analysis that reviews demographic and socio-economic influences on housing demand, current housing market developments, housing finance trends and housing affordability. For those investing or working in real estate, this is a publication worth a read.

The 2005 edition includes two special features:

  • Aboriginal housing: the housing conditions and challenges facing Aboriginal peoples and some of the innovative ways these challenges are being addressed by Aboriginal communities. As of 2001, 22.4 per cent of on-reserve Aboriginal households were living in inadequate housing and unable to afford homes in adequate condition. This is over 11 times higher than for non-Aboriginal households.
  • Healthy housing and sustainable communities: how housing and residential communities that are designed and built to be sustainable can contribute in a positive way to the environment and improve Canadians' quality of life.

The third edition of the Observer again identifies housing as "one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy in 2004, supported by high levels of new construction, renovation and sales of existing homes." In spite of this picture of prosperity, updated statistics reveal that 1.48 million or 13.7 per cent of Canadian households were in core housing need in 2001 (the time of the last country-wide Census) down from 1.57 million or 15.6 per cent of households in 1996. "Core housing need" means households faced challenges obtaining acceptable housing that met their needs. Although broad improvements in housing affordability have been touted by government and industry since the mid-1990s, we can only ask if the million plus feel the improvement is significant as we leave the holiday season and enter 2006.

CMHC is mandated to improving living conditions through research and activities in housing finance, assisted housing, research and information transfer, and export promotion. The federal agency "is committed to helping Canadians access a wide choice of quality, affordable homes, and making vibrant and sustainable communities a reality across the country." CMHC predicts that the most significant influences on housing demand arise out of demographic patterns and shifts like the following:

  • Demographics: From 1991 to 2001, the number of people aged 65 and above grew at double the rate of the general population, and this growth rate will continue to accelerate. Just under 3/4 of senior households own their homes and of these, 5 out of 6 have paid off their mortgages.
  • The high level of immigration and rapid growth in the Aboriginal population are important. Immigrants now make up 18 per cent of the Canadian population with more than 70 per cent settling in Toronto, Vancouver or Montréal.

The Observer discussions elaborate on statistics and observed trends, including the following:

  • Housing-related spending was up 7.7 per cent in current dollars, compared to growth of 5.7 per cent in the rest of the economy.
  • Existing home sales set a new record in 2004, as 456,500 dwellings were sold through the Canadian Real Estate Association's Multiple Listing Service® (MLS® and the average MLS®) sales price rose by nearly 10 per cent for the third year in a row.
  • New housing starts increased by 6.9 per cent in 2004 to reach more than 233,400 units, their highest level since 1987.
  • Strong sales and construction activity pushed the total value of mortgage approvals up 17.1 per cent in 2004 compared to 2003. This reflects a 9.8 per cent increase in the number of loan approvals as well as a 6.7 per cent increase in the average loan amount.
  • The movement out of rental accommodation into homeownership continued in 2004 and the average apartment vacancy rate for major urban centres rose from 2.2 to 2.7 per cent. The trend may have limitations since renter households account for over two thirds of all households in core housing need.

You may also want to compare your situation to that of other Canadians:

  • In 2004, mortgage debt accounted for 68.7% of total household debt, down from the peak of 74.5 per cent in 1993.
  • Increasing numbers (14 per cent) switched lenders when renewing their mortgage.
  • In 2001, the average Canadian household spent about 1/5 of its before-tax income on housing.
  • On average, houses built between 2001 and 2004 use approximately half the amount of energy as those built before 1946.
  • 70 per cent of Canadian households lived in affordable uncrowded housing in good repair.

Click here to download your copy of the Canadian Housing Observer 2005 or to order a print copy. Hard copies may also be ordered by calling 1-800-668-2642. Please quote product number 63937.

Here's to a great year for everyone. Among the events scheduled in 2006 is the next Canadian Census, designed to bring patterns of improvement into focus and to highlight deficiencies.

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