Canadian builders and developers will be taking a close look at new census numbers just released by Statistics Canada (www.statscan.ca). The numbers show that smaller houses and condominiums, particularly in urban areas, will continue to drive the housing market in the coming years.

Statistics Canada says the number of private households is growing faster than the population that lives in them. Between 1996 and 2001, the number of private households increased 6.9 per cent, and the number of people living in them rose just four per cent. Fewer people are living in large households and more people are living alone. The new census figures say there were almost as many one-person households in the country as there were households with four or more people.

The proportion of households with four or more people fell from one-third in 1981 to one-quarter in 2001. The average Canadian household size fell from 2.9 people to 2.6 people. The census says the proportion of one-person households is up from about one-fifth of all households in 1981 to more than one-quarter in 2001.

The decline in household size is a result of lower fertility rates in recent years as couples are having fewer children, says Statistics Canada. Other factors include a large increase in childless couples, and empty-nest families where the children have moved away. There has also been an increase in the number of marriage or common-law union break-ups, which often creates two smaller households.

In Canada's largest urban centres, the number of households keeps increasing, whether the overall population is increasing or not. However, there are fewer children living in downtown areas. In all metropolitan areas, there were no city centres where more than 25 per cent of households consisted of couples with children.

In most of the cities, more than half of the houses with children were halfway between the centre and the outskirts of town. In Toronto, the country's largest metropolitan area, houses with children formed a ring around downtown, in the suburbs where new home development and population growth has been strongest.

The census numbers show why condominiums in downtown areas have been selling so well for the last several years. In Toronto, 12,000 new condominiums will be added to the housing stock this year, and another 12,000 are expected in 2003. About a third of these units are likely to be purchased by investors, according to a report by housing consultant Will Dunning. With new rental condominiums in short supply, and a falling number of total rental units available, condos are the most significant source of new rental accommodation.

However, many of these units are at the high end of the rental price range, and there is concern that some investors might have difficulty renting these units. Toronto's vacancy rate for mid- to high-end condos is rising and some rental prices have fallen. The need for more affordable condominium units in Toronto and other metropolitan areas is still acute.

The lack of children in the downtown core is also worrying school boards, which are facing declining enrolment and may have to shut down schools.

The new census numbers show that the proportion of "traditional" families is continuing to decline, and that the number of common-law couples living together is rising. For the first time, the census also tracked the number of same-sex couples living together.

Another major change from previous census numbers is in the number of young adults who are remaining in, or returning to, their parents' home. People in their 20s who live with their parents increased from 27 per cent in 1981 to 41 per cent in 2001. Not surprisingly, the largest increase took place in urban centres where rental units are the most expensive.

As of May 15, 2001, there were 11,562,975 private dwellings in Canada. Of these, 6.6 million were single detached homes; 2.1 million were apartments in buildings with fewer than five storeys; and 1.05 million were in high-rise apartments.

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