Canadian cities are often part of discussions involving the most expensive property markets in the world, news that shouldn’t be remotely surprising to anyone in the Great White North. Over the past year, our list of least affordable cities has reshuffled in somewhat unexpected ways and may continue to do so in the future as people gain greater flexibility to work remotely. This has caused an overall shift in the Canadian real estate market. Once housing decisions are decoupled from workplace/commuting constraints, who knows where people will flock to?
Now, while it is worthwhile to know the property prices by themselves, they don’t quite tell you whether the people living in those areas can afford to buy property at all. To get a clearer look at the picture, we’ve outlined how expensive our metropolises are in terms of median prices versus median disposable incomes, as well as the biggest industries in their respective economies.
1 | Toronto, ON
Price to income ratio: 12.37
5th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 82.34%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $2,030
Congratulations, Toronto—you’ve once again bested Vancouver in the annual race to the bottom of affordability for your residents! Canada’s most expensive city is also its massive finance, media, and technology hub with a price-to-income ratio to prove it. Although marginally more affordable compared to previous years (likely an effect of the recent pandemic), it’s still pretty expensive to buy or rent property in Toronto, with mortgages sitting at roughly 82% of a person’s income on average. Those kinds of numbers have long ceased to be shocking, but are certainly still concerning.
2 | Vancouver, BC
Price to income ratio: 11.41
7th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 75.29%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $2,013
It won’t surprise you to hear that Vancouver has often been 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 11 years of your annual disposable income. Good luck with that, when you’re also staring down the barrel of $2,000 in rent per month at the same time. With an average benchmark price of $1,045,100 for a home in 2020, nearly half of new buyers are locked out of buying a place altogether since prices above $1 million can’t be insured and thus require a 20% down payment—which they simply don’t have.
3 | Coquitlam, BC
Price to income ratio: 10.10
9th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 69.84%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,820
“Adventure doesn’t mean getting out of town…it means staying right where you are”, or so says Tourism Coquitlam. That’s fortunate, because BC’s sixth-largest city is also Canada’s third most expensive city to live in at the moment! Undoubtedly a result of overflow from Vancouver pushing outward to neighbouring cities, housing prices are quite high relative to income in Coquitlam. But, for approximately $1,800 a month, you can watch salmon spawning up close every year. After all, that’s the natural occurrence after which the city derives its name (from the Coast Salish word “kʷikʷəƛ̓əm,” which means “red fish up the river”).
4 | Burnaby, BC
Price to income ratio: 8.7
14th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 62.25%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,670
Voted Canada’s Best Run City by Maclean’s Magazine in 2009, and Burnaby insists it’s a place for “Those who prefer to follow their hearts, not hashtags”. Located a bare 15 minutes away from downtown Vancouver by train, it’s also a place for folks who’d like to pay a fair bit less than their neighbours on mortgages and rent. But more importantly; if it was good enough for beloved Canadian Michael J. Fox to spend his formative years here, it’s good enough for anyone!
5 | Brampton, ON
Price to income ratio: 8.1
23rd overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 55.97%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,690
Canada’s “Flower Town” and ninth largest city has been experiencing a surge of growth over the past few years, boasting a population of 650,000 in 2020. It’s a young city too, with an average age of 36 – the lowest among the country’s largest cities. Driven by this influx and increase of people flowing into the city, mortgages are rather high relative to income while rental prices hover around $1,700 on average. While not as expensive as Ontario’s other cities in absolute terms, Brampton could continue down the path to unaffordability should this trend continue.
6 | Surrey, BC
Price to income ratio: 7.8
24th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 53.81%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,623
Also part of Metro Vancouver, Surrey styles itself as a vast city with a “small-town feel”. From secret gardens to golf, there’s something for everyone in British Columbia’s “second most populated” city. And if that something is a mortgage that’s about 8-29% more affordable than one in Vancouver, Coquitlam, or Burnaby – well, Surrey’s the place for you!
7 | Mississauga, ON
Price to income ratio: 7.7
26th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 53.33%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,917
Toronto’s sister city trails a fair bit behind it on our list, coming in as the seventh most expensive city in Canada, and twenty-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 54% of your disposable income on a mortgage, or shell out roughly $1900 in rent on average for a one bedroom apartment. The city’s vacancy rate did rise to 2.4% in 2020 (the highest it’s been in the past 10 years), which was a small glimmer of good news for prospective renters.
8 | Kitchener, ON
Price to income ratio: 7.57
28th overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 52.94%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,391
Where’s the world’s largest Oktoberfest celebration outside of Munich? “Kitchener, Waterloo” probably isn’t anyone’s first, second, or eight guess but the joke’s on us—this city’s deep Germanic roots are on full display in all their lederhosen-clad glory come September each year. Mortgages will still set you back just about half of your disposable income, but that’s a reasonable trade off when polka’s involved! So come for the schnitzel and rich cultural heritage, and stay for the (relatively) low average monthly rent prices.
9 | Victoria, BC
Price to income ratio: 7.27
31st overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 49.49%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,632
British Columbia’s capital is considerably less expensive than its cousin near top of our list, having been edged out by the other cities in the Metro Vancouver area. 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 $1,600 (a nearly $300 increase on average from 2019), 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.
10 | Montréal, QC
Price to income ratio: 7.26
33rd overall in North America
Mortgage as a percentage of income: 48.26%
Median rent per month (1 bedroom apartment): $1,290
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. However, as it currently stands, Montréal trails far behind both in terms of how expensive it is to own property—which is a good thing!
How affordable is your city?
Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.