Amid COVID, Canada’s Younger Gen is flocking to Suburbia

June 3, 2021

By: Austin Devaraj

The generation composed of millennials and gen z is looking to build a future out of the city, in a trend that continues on, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic rages

Young Canadians are moving to the suburbs at an alarming rate. The government data, released by Statistics Canada, this past January noted that around 87,000 residents, moved out of the country’s largest cities – Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver amid the COVID-19 global pandemic. “More people are opting to live outside of Canada’s largest urban centres,” reads the report.

The exodus does not come as a surprise to real estate brokers who practice in the city. Odeen Eccleston, Broker of Record at Toronto’s Wiltshire Eccleston Realty says Canadians are leaving urban centers because of “Affordability, lifestyle, the desire for more space and increased mobility due to work from home.” Eccleston notes that there has been a significant impact because of the normalcy in remote work culture. “Many employers have seen productivity increase since the onset of remote work and have given employees the greenlight to work from home on a permanent to semi-permanent basis,” she said. Eccleston says that this means that buyers who are looking for homes amid the pandemic reality are no longer bound to living within a certain distance from the office. “I have helped more people than ever not only relocate from the city to the suburbs, but I’ve helped more buyers than ever to move beyond the suburbs into tertiary markets and small towns,” she said. The sentiment is felt by economists as well. “You no longer need to live in downtown Toronto to work on Bay Street,” says John Isbister, a Professor in the Department of Economics at Ryerson University, whose expertise is in Economic Demography. He says that because of COVID-19’s work from home reality thousands of Canadians are no longer connected to one particular place, like an office for work.

Management firm Cowen and Company released its findings in Fall 2020 describing similar trends in the housing market within the younger generation. “Those who could afford to, have escaped the large metropolitan areas, bought homes with more indoor space and backyards, as well as cars to get them around the suburbs,” writes Jack Seibald, a Managing Director at the firm. PricewaterhouseCoopers echoes the commentary for the future in its own Outlook for the Canadian housing market. “If remote work becomes a more permanent option, some homeowners—particularly those working from home in a small space—might look outside large cities for more square footage and accessible green space.”

Isbister notes that another reason behind the rise in the suburban marketplace is that a significant number of young people cannot afford to live in Toronto’s downtown core and the stark reality has resulted in people moving outside of the city. “It’s a trend that existed before the pandemic but one which has gotten worse,” said Isbister. Over the past decade, there has been a trend to head to suburbia because of the significant rise in housing prices but the city living demographic has however maintained some consistent demand among buyers, even amid the global pandemic. Urbanation Inc. released a report last October that revealed 6,370 condominium units were sold in Toronto in the third quarter of 2020.

Lyndsey Rolheiser, who’s an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning believes that the pandemic may have just sped up the move for the portion of people who were not attracted to city living pre COVID-19.  “It is likely the pandemic quickened the decision making for this population,” she said. Rolheiser notes that the younger demographic’s lifestyle changes contributes to their housing choices. “As larger households form, through marriage and children, preference for more space increases and we observe movement to cities with lower land prices thus larger homes,” she said. As people migrate toward suburban communities the issue of zoning and planning in those regions come to the forefront. “In general, we need housing supply everywhere and we need to open up zoning in central areas to allow for more density,” said Rolheiser.

Re/max Canada, one of the country’s largest real estate agencies believes that the move in the younger generations to the suburbs isn’t an “exodus” per say. However, it states in its Canadian Housing Market Outlook for 2021 that “the re-location trend across Canada’s housing market is real.” The agency tapped into Leger, a market researcher to do a survey for its report which revealed that around 30 per cent of Canadians discovered, over the pandemic, that they needed more space with respect to housing.

As the value for the Canadian market goes up, the phenomenon, with more work from home capabilities offered by employers, is estimated only to continue across Canadian cities in the coming years.