Fraser Forum

Dear Montreal, don’t lose your housing advantage

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Montrealers elect a new mayor and council on Sunday, and according to a new poll by CROP and Radio-Canada, their top concerns all relate to transportation. Roadwork, snow clearance, transit, and road-sharing between pedestrians, motorists and cyclists are among the most important issues for citizens. To a Vancouverite or a Torontonian, there’s a conspicuous omission from this list: housing.

Indeed, according to recently released census data on housing, average rents in Montreal were $835 a month in 2016, compared to $1,242 in Toronto and just under $1,300 in Vancouver. Similarly, average monthly costs for homeowners in Montreal are more than $300 lower than in Toronto and almost $400 lower than in Vancouver. Lastly, average dwelling values in Montreal are 43 per cent lower than in Toronto and 70 per cent lower than in Vancouver. Regardless of differences in income across the three cities, Montreal has some clear advantages.

Seen this way, it’s understandable that housing doesn’t take centre stage this election. Nevertheless, Montrealers should recognize their advantage and its contributing factors.

First, the rental vacancy rate across the Montreal metropolitan area was 3.9 per cent in 2016 compared to 1.3 per cent in Toronto and 0.7 per cent in Vancouver. Similarly, homes for sale in the Montreal area currently spend between 74 and 102 days on the market before selling, while sellers in Toronto and Vancouver only wait between 42 days, depending on housing type. All of this indicates a healthier balance between supply and demand in Montreal compared to Canada’s other two largest metropolises.

To ensure Montreal maintains its advantage on housing, Montrealers and their elected officials should not lose sight of how important it is for the housing supply to keep up with growing demand. This means keeping land-use regulations flexible enough for homebuilders to respond to demand in a timely fashion by ensuring building permit approval processes are short, and the costs of regulatory compliance are reasonable.

The risks of not doing so are predictable—just ask anyone looking to live in Canada’s other two largest cities.

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