Affordability still the most pressing housing issue in northern capitals, says CMHC

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The cost to rent and own remains the most significant housing issue in the three capitals north of 60, according to the latest Northern Housing Report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In all three territories, labour shortages and shipping disruptions due to COVID-19 are likely to limit new housing builds in the near future, the report said. At the same time, low mortgage rates will support new home demand.

The federal government and the territorial housing corporations are still in talks to design and implement a new Canada Housing Benefit, which was first promised by the Liberal government in 2017.

"This benefit will provide affordability assistance directly to households to address the unique affordability challenges of the most vulnerable within the territories," the report stated.

However, no timeframe was given.

Yellowknife

In 2019, about 29 per cent of housing units in Yellowknife were considered "not affordable." That number is more than double what it was 10 years earlier.

The CMHC determined families in Yellowknife would need to earn $60,680 a year to rent a one-bedroom apartment, $69,760 to rent a two-bedroom apartment, $86,333 to buy a condo, and $103,194 to buy a home.

The vacancy rate among social and affordable housing units in the capital was 2.1 per cent.

In all, 10.6 per cent of the city's population is in "core housing need," compared to 15.4 per cent of people in the territory at large. Single parents were in the worst situation, while couples without children were in the best.

The vacancy rate for rentals was 4.2 per cent, down from 5.2 per cent in 2018. While more larger units of three bedrooms or more were available, demand rose for bachelor, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The vacancy rate for bachelor units was zero.

In general, average rents went up by 3.5 per cent, with a two-bedroom apartment costing, on average, $1,744 per month.

Housing sales trended downwards, from 340 units in 2018 to 255 in 2019. The average home price decreased by 12 per cent, from $448,721 in 2018 to $393,339 in 2019. New home construction also decreased.

Iqaluit

Iqaluit continues to face a "critical public housing shortage," with an estimated 360 public housing units needed, the report said.

Vacancy rates were near zero for both market rental units and social and affordable housing units, the lowest in all of Canada.

Average rent was $2,668, or $58 more than in 2018. An average rent of $2,436 "would be considered affordable," according to the report.

On the home side, three condos were sold last year at an average of cost of $345,000 while 13 row or townhome units sold for an average cost of $559,230. The report said that on average, condos and townhomes had a higher square footage than detached homes.

One multi-family rental apartment with 36 units and less than 10 homes were built in Iqaluit in 2019.

"Land availability and labour shortages continue to be a challenge in creating new house developments throughout the region," the report stated.

Whitehorse

In Whitehorse, an aging population and fewer international migrants somewhat lessened rental demand.

In April 2020, the vacancy rate in rental buildings with three or more units was 3.7 per cent, up from 2.9 per cent the previous fall, and the average rent for a two-bedroom suite was $1,227, up $17 from the previous fall.

Rising incomes and low interest rates drove an increase in home buying, from 571 units in 2018 to 619 in 2019. About half of those sales were homes while the rest were condos and townhomes. It's a seller's market, the report said, with average house prices up 7.4 per cent to $516,200, condo prices up 9.4 per cent to $376,800, and duplexes up 3.4 per cent to $377,700.

The number of new houses built dropped from 384 in 2018 to 230 in 2019. Four out of five new homes were in multi-family units.