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Most expensive Canadian cities to live in

Jamie QuadrosOctober 10, 201916 min

Canadian cities have the dubious honour of featuring prominently in any discussion of the most expensive property markets in the world, news that shouldn’t be remotely surprising to anyone in the Great White North. The usual suspects—Vancouver and Toronto—appear all over the place of course, but there are quite a few other cities with price tags that may give you pause.

Now, while property prices are pretty illuminating by themselves, they don’t quite tell you whether the folks living in those areas can afford to buy property at all. To get a clearer look at the picture, we took a look at how expensive our metropolises are in terms of median prices versus median disposable incomes, as well as the biggest industries in their respective economies. Sounds riveting, I know.

1. Vancouver, BC
Price to income ratio: 15.26
1st overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 108.19
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $2,200

It won’t surprise you to hear that Vancouver is both Canada’s and North America’s most expensive city to live in. Its biggest industries are technology and digital entertainment, and the city has been lauded as having the“most diverse economy” in Canada. And for the privilege of living here, you’re looking at prices that are the equivalent of 15 years of your annual disposable income. Good luck with that, when you’re also staring down the barrel of $2,200 in rent per month at the same time. The median mortgage in Vancouver is roughly 108% of the median income, which is shorthand for “this city is expensive and most people are earning nowhere near enough to actually afford property here”.

2. Toronto, ON
Price to income ratio: 13.85
2nd overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 98.65
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $2,300

“This is an affordable city” and “We don’t have housing issues” are things Torontonians would never say. Canada’s second most expensive city is our other finance, media, and technology hub, with a price-to-income ratio to prove it. It would take you close to 14 years to put aside enough to afford a place, while somehow paying roughly $2,300 in rent each month. On the bright side, that’s a whole year (and change) less than Vancouver!

3. Mississauga, ON
Price to income ratio: 8.41
6th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 58.37
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): data unavailable

Toronto’s sister city follows right behind it on our list, coming in as the third most expensive city in Canada, and sixth most expensive city overall in North America. A thriving metropolis in its own right, Mississauga’s industries include: “life sciences, aerospace, food & beverage, financial services, information technology,  automotive and cleantech”. Although it’s more affordable than its immediate neighbour, the prices of property in the city are still quite high in absolute terms. You can expect to pay nearly 60% of your disposable income on a mortgage, or shell out roughly $2,000 in rent on average for a one bedroom apartment. Add on extremely low vacancy rates (0.8%) for rentals, and you’re faced with a difficult road to finding affordable options in the city.

4. Victoria, BC, Canada
Price to income ratio: 7.58
11th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 53.27
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,390

British Columbia’s capital is considerably less expensive than its cousin at the top of our list, but it’s still North America’s 11th priciest city for real estate. Victoria prides itself on its technology and education industries, not to mention its prominence as a Department of National Defense location. Monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment will set you back $1,390, or you can contend with handing over roughly half of your disposable income to mortgage payments. The city’s property prices are steep relative to earning potential, but at least we’re departing the realm of astronomical figures.

5. Montréal, QC
Price to income ratio: 7.20
12th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 50.18
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,430

Montréal is the largest city in Quebec and boasts a “critical mass of cutting-edge firms” involved in industries such as “aerospace, life sciences, information and communications technologies”, among others. It’s also the sixth-fastest growing metropolitan area in Canada and the United states, which indicates that its price to income ratio could grow to resemble cities like Toronto and Vancouver in the future. As it currently stands, Montréal is firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of how expensive it is to own property.

6. Kelowna, BC
Price to income ratio: 5.27
21st overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 37.67
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,280

The “birthplace of winemaking in British Columbia”, Kelowna is a city with booming tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, and health care industries. Essentially, if you like wine and valleys this is the place for you! Although it’s the 21st most expensive city for property in North America, you could do worse than Kelowna. Median mortgage rates come in at just under 38% of your disposable income, leaving you in a perfectly medium situation. It would be great if things were better, but they’re not so bad as they are.

7. Calgary, AB
Price to income ratio: 4.68
24th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 32.94
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,150

Calgary claims to be Canada’s most livable and business-friendly city, ranking first overall in the country for quality of life. The city is home to a number of industries, with construction, health care and social assistance, and professional/scientific/technical services employing the most people. Interestingly, it also had the most millionaires per capita of major Canadian cities (in 2016). In terms of property affordability, Calgary seems to be quite reasonable with median mortgages equating to about 33% of your annual disposable income. Rent prices aren’t anything special, but they’re worth paying to hang out with all the Albertan millionaires that love the city!

8. Ottawa, ON
Price to income ratio: 4.33
30th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 30.93
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,250

Canada’s capital city is the fourth largest in the country, and home to more than 25,000 employers. Ottawa’s “robust economy centres on two major sectors – high technology and the federal government”. While still on the expensive side in broad terms, the city is drastically more affordable than its neighbour further up on our list. Ottawa’s property price to income ratio is less than a third of Toronto’s, with median property prices equating to only 4.3 years worth of disposable income. That’s a pretty decent price to live in the political heart of Canada!

9. Edmonton, AB
Price to income ratio: 3.76
37th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 26.35
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $950

Edmonton has the lowest unemployment rate in Alberta, and claims responsibility for “25% of all net new jobs in Canada over the past 5 years”. If petrochemicals, manufacturing, transport and logistics, and environmental engineering are the industries you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place. From the looks of it, working in Edmonton will leave you with plenty of money even after buying (what appears to be rather reasonably priced) property. The median mortgage rate for Edmonton works out to just over 26% of your disposable income, which finally lands us in affordable territory!

How affordable is your city?

Jamie Quadros profile picture

Jamie Quadros

Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.

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