The Dynamics of Housing Affordability

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Shelter is the biggest expenditure most households make and its affordability can have an impact on the well being of household members. For this reason, housing affordability is closely watched by a wide range of stakeholders—from housing advocates to policy analysts—interested in the welfare of Canadians. Measuring affordability involves comparing housing costs to a household's ability to meet them. One common measure is the shelter-cost-to-income ratio (STIR). The 30% level is commonly accepted as the upper limit for affordable housing. Housing affordability is also a critical input to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's core housing need indicator which is used by governments to help design, deliver, fund and evaluate social housing programs. The report, jointly authored by Statistics Canada and CMHC, focuses purely on the dynamics of housing affordability, not on core housing need. It examines the likelihood of spending 30% or more of household income on shelter, how often this occurs, whether it is occasional or persistent, and contrasts those spending 30% or more to those spending less. Cross-sectional estimates indicate that around 19% of Canadians lived in households spending more than the affordability benchmark in 2002. Longitudinally however, less than 9% lived in households that spent above the benchmark in each year between 2002 and 2004, while another 19% lived in households spending above the benchmark for either one or two years. The attributes associated with the highest probabilities of living in a household spending above the affordability benchmark were: living alone, being a female lone parent, renting, being an immigrant, or living in Vancouver or Toronto. In addition, those living in households experiencing some kind of transition between 2002 and 2004 period had a higher probability of exceeding the benchmark at least once during the period. Such transitions included renters with a change in rent-subsidy status, those who changed from owner to renter or vice versa, those who changed family type (for example, marrying or divorcing), and those who moved between cities. Notably, those experiencing these transitions did not exceed the benchmark persistently.