With the release of the 2016 Canadian census came resurrected headlines proclaiming fresh evidence of a housing crisis in which tens of thousands of units are sitting empty in the Vancouver census metropolitan area (CMA).
In fact, what the census measures is not vacant homes per se, but the number of units that are not occupied by usual residents on census day. That definition captures a variety of scenarios. The unit may be occupied by a non-permanent resident, such as an international student. A rental unit could be in between occupants, or the home may be a second home that is unoccupied most of the year. The important thing to note is that the aggregate number includes all of the above possibilities and cannot be quoted simply as an empty unit in need of some policy address.
Also missing from much of the media reporting was that, when the overall housing stock grows, as it did by 8.2 per cent in Vancouver from 2011 to 2016, the number of units not occupied by usual residents will grow with it. The important measure to look at is whether the rate of units not occupied by usual residents is trending higher, and if the rate is abnormal relative to other Canadian cities.
For the Vancouver CMA, the rate of dwellings not occupied by usual residents was 6.5 per cent in 2016, up slightly from 6.1 per cent in 2011 and 6.2 per cent in 2006. For the City of Vancouver, the trend is similar, with the rate of dwellings not occupied by usual residents rising to 8.2 per cent in 2016 from 7.7 per cent in 2011 and 7.5 per cent in 2006.
It is worth highlighting that the Canadian average rate of dwellings not occupied by usual residents was 8.8 per cent, as it was also for the province of BC. That means that both the Metro Vancouver region and the City of Vancouver have a below average rate of dwellings not occupied by usual residents. In fact, the Metro Vancouver area has a lower rate than far-less-international Canadian cities like Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon.