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Home ownership got a tiny bit more affordable at start of 2023 — but housing crisis still raging: RBC report


It recently got a tiny bit more affordable to own a home in Canada — but according to RBC economists, the affordability crisis is still raging in many parts of Canada.

A new report from RBC on housing trends, published in late June, found that the bank’s affordability measure for ownership costs fell in the first quarter of 2023 for the first time in nearly three years.

The way they measure the affordability of home ownership is by what percentage of the median household income goes to ownership costs.

The percentage of median household income that went to ownership costs across Canada in the first quarter of 2023 was 59.5 per cent, a drop of 1.6 percentage points.

It’s not exactly a steep decline — but after climbing consistently since the start of 2020, any easing of the burden of ownership costs likely comes as a welcome respite for many.

The report found that the Bank of Canada pausing its rate hikes helped to give homeowners a break.

“The policy shift helped stabilize mortgage rates, allowing the price correction to lower ownership costs associated with a home purchase in the first quarter of 2023,” RBC economist Robert Hogue wrote in the report.

“While welcome, the easing in ownership costs barely makes a dent in reversing the enormous loss of affordability since mid-2020.”

Owning a home may be an “impossible” dream for those with middle-income households in expensive cities such as Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto, the report stated, and is still difficult in Montreal, Ottawa and Halifax “to a lesser degree.”

While prices have fallen in the housing market itself, the demand-supply equation has made it hard for many to find a home, with more on the market than ever before and not enough properties up for grabs, according to the report.


The report included a breakdown of some of the most active cities in terms of the housing market.

RBC economists found that the continuing climb of ownership costs in Vancouver has finally broken, with the first quarter of 2023 seeing the first dip since mid-2020. However, it is still the most expensive place in Canada to own a home, at 96.1 per cent on RBC’s affordability measure. The only time it has been more unaffordable to own a home was the previous quarter. Despite some movement in the market, with buyers and sellers returning to the field in the spring, the report states that RBC expects “the persistence of extreme unaffordability stress to cap the market’s recovery.”

Victoria saw its first break in more than two years, with its affordability measure on RBC’s scale dropping down 2.1 per cent. But it is still a “staggering” 73.5 per cent, making it the third-least affordable market among those that RBC tracks.

There’s a similar story playing out in Toronto. Over the past two years, the city has seen a 10 per cent increase in RBC’s affordability measure, which the two percentage point decline in the last quarter has only started to reverse. Owning a home in Toronto still takes nearly 80 per cent of a family’s median household income, putting the situation “still deep in crisis territory.”

Things are “challenging” for buyers in Ottawa, according to the report, with the affordability measure near its worst-ever levels for the region at 47.1 per cent. Evidence that prices could be rising again doesn’t help, the report states.

Compared to some other major cities, Calgary is in a better position, with home resales staying above pre-pandemic levels, and overall affordability much better than other regions. Edmonton is even more affordable right now, according to the report, with an aggregate affordability measure of 34.2 per cent, with Saskatoon at 34.3 per cent.

Regina is currently the most affordable market in Western Canada, scoring 28.4 per cent on RBC’s scale.

“But the impact on affordability may be short-lived,” the report warned. “A strengthening in resale activity this spring has tightened up demand-supply conditions, sending prices higher.”

In Montreal, home resales are more than 30 per cent below pre-pandemic levels. Quebec City has largely stayed the same across the first quarter of 2023, with the average prices “still within reach” for average buyers in the area.

On the east coast, those in Saint John, N.B. are still grappling with the sharp increase in ownership costs since late-2021, with home resales having plummeted by 40 per cent since then.

"New listings lately have sunk to decades lows,” the report stated.

In Halifax, new listings also fell to a “20-year low,” due in part to a huge drop in supply. And St. John’s, N.L. remained one of the most affordable places among those RBC tracks, with a 27.2 percentage score on the affordability measure, although soaring interest rates made purchasing a home more of a challenge. Top Stories

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