Housing supply: vacant residential areas, but no one uses them

TORONTO – As the housing emergency reaches unprecedented levels, with a total lack of affordable homes (both for sale and rent), it turns out that some of Canada’s major cities have large areas of vacant residential land. Unused. This was revealed by a report from Statistics Canada, which simultaneously analyzes the dramatic increase in construction costs in the main cities. 

While there are many reasons behind the housing crisis, the report suggests that land availability is not the primary one in some cities. Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau and Halifax did indeed have vacant residential lots as of 2021, according to the report, released Wednesday. Ottawa-Gatineau has the highest amount of vacant residential land, both in terms of proportion (18%) and overall acreage (162,000 acres). Halifax also has a high amount of vacant residential land at 15% at 151,000 acres, while Toronto has 9% (131,000 vacant acres), Vancouver 4.5% (32,000 acres) and Edmonton 2.5%. (59,000 acres).

But in which parts of the cities in question are these lands located? The majority of vacant land in Ottawa, nearly 76%, is within the city limits. Edmonton also has a high percentage of vacant residential lots in the downtown area (nearly 34%). Other cities, however, have more “dense” centers. Toronto, for example, has only 2.1% of vacant downtown residential land, while in Vancouver, downtown vacant lots are just 0.3%.

Ownership of vacant land was also taken into account in the report: in the Atlantic provinces, vacant land is more likely to be owned by people who own multiple properties.

Another aspect examined in the report is the increase in construction costs: the most significant was recorded in Toronto, with an increase in construction costs of 74% between 2010 and 2022. Also Ottawa-Gatineau, with almost 70 % and Edmonton over 62%, saw significant increases in construction costs. Despite this, construction employment increased fairly steadily between 2010 and 2022: the employment rate increased fastest in Ontario (over 43%) and Quebec (nearly 27%). At the same time, however, wages in the construction sector have not kept pace. As they say in Italy: “botte piena e moglie ubriaca”, it means something like “your cake and eat it too”. But only for builders.

Foto di Borko Manigoda da Pixabay