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.

 
 
 
 

Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.

 

Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.

 

The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.


The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.