In Canada, millennials are still buying houses, somehow

Some young Canadians celebrate their good fortune. (Okay, they were celebrating some hockey.) Image: Getty.

Both Toronto and Vancouver had frantic housing markets in 2017 — prices skyrocketed and many properties sold with bidding wars that pushed their prices high over the listing price.

The 15 per cent surtax on foreign investors was introduced in Vancouver initially and then later in Toronto to help cool the market. Despite the fact that foreign ownership of real estate is not particularly high, the market in both cities slowed markedly (if temporarily) after the imposition of the taxes while vendors and purchasers waited to see what their impact would be.

The new mortgage qualification guidelines introduced in January 2018 have had the effect of reducing the amount of mortgage debt borrowers qualify for, and has also had an impact on activity in the market.

Both these policies have had a dampening effect on the number of resale transactions. Sales were down 19 per cent in January and February but overall, showed a small increase in March.

There has also been considerable media attention about falling average house prices, especially in Toronto, but this is misleading. Average house prices can fall because the characteristic of the average house sold changes — for example, smaller houses are selling while larger, more expensive ones are not.

Home ownership remains a Canadian dream

Real estate registry data specialist Teranet and the National Bank of Canada have created a price index that tracks price changes in the same houses as they sell over time, which provides a more accurate reading of price changes.

The April 2018 index shows moderate price increases in Toronto since the beginning of the year (0.3 per cent) and a year-over-year increase of 1.89 per cent. Vancouver shows a year-to-date increase of 2.41 per cent, and a substantial year-over-year increase of 15.89 per cent.

Despite these statistics, Canadians are hanging onto the goal of owning a home.

A recent RBC survey found this motivation strongest among millennials, with 39 per cent expecting to buy within the next two years, compared to 25 per cent overall for the survey. Condominium sales in Toronto in the past year have been much stronger than sales of single family homes presumably because of this demographic.

Fifty-nine per cent of millennials have already achieved their dream of home ownership, according to a survey by mortgage insurer Genworth Canada released in early May 2018. This seems high given the Statistics Canada rate of home ownership in 2016 of 43.6 per cent for 20-34 year olds.

However, Genworth reports that of those milllenials who own, 30 per cent bought a home (not always a first home) within the last two years despite the extreme nature of markets. This compares to nine per cent of respondents over 34.

Millennials keep pace on home ownership

Given the national home ownership rate of 67.8 per cent according to the 2016 census, millennials are not far behind. Ownership rates in 2016 were 66.5 per cent in Toronto and 63.7 per cent in Vancouver. Given the large increase in house prices in these two cities, the difference in ownership rates may deviate further from the national average in the next census.

With similar results to the RBC survey, Genworth’s study found that another 30 per cent of millennials plan to buy in the next two years.

This begs the question: How have millennials been able to fulfil their home ownership goals, and how will they be able to do so in the future?

One way is that they’re saving money by living at home with their parents after completing post-secondary education. Overall in Canada, more than a third of those 20 to 34 live at home with at least one parent. (This percentage is comparable in the United States, Britain and Australia).

In Toronto, this ratio rises to 47.4 per cent; in Vancouver it’s 38.6 per cent. This is a low-cost way for parents to help their children save for a downpayment (although in some cases, the child is supporting the parent rather than vice versa).

Parents help with downpayment

The RBC survey also revealed that 35 per cent of millennials planning on buying in the next two years anticipate getting help with the downpayment from their parents.

Baby boomers have benefited from home price increases recently, and can borrow against the equity in their homes relatively cheaply on secured lines of credit.

But this raises a couple of concerns.

Boomers may be taking on this debt at a time when they are planning retirement and their income is declining, leading to financial pressure for the parents. As well, not all parents can raise capital in this way, and some aren’t willing to — leaving an equity gap between those who get help from their parents and those who don’t and may not be able to buy as a consequence.

Millennials are being creative in others ways to assist with affordability. Most in Toronto and Vancouver who live in rental accommodation have roommates. Some take one or more roommates with them as renters when they buy to help with mortgage payments. Others buy a property with rental potential — a duplex or a house with a basement apartment.


Does roommate face eviction?

While these tactics may allow millennials to enter the housing market, they have implications for the long term. What happens when the homeowner decides to have a child? Will the roommate be evicted, and if so, how will the mortgage and day-care costs be covered? Having children may be postponed or not be an option at all.

Eventually, millennials may choose to leave these very expensive cities.

This is already happening in Ontario as people buy in the Waterloo area or Hamilton and commute to Toronto. After a few years of tedious commuting, they may look for employment closer to home.

A lack of affordable home ownership options in Toronto and Vancouver may eventually make them less attractive as locations for businesses if their prospective employees cannot afford to live within a reasonable proximity to work.

This is a complicated issue with no easy solution but one that needs continued attention —it has broader implications than just the fact that some millennials may not be able to buy homes.

Jane Londerville, Associate Professor of Real Estate, University of Guelph.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.