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Census 2021: Canada’s Housing Situation and Indigenous Population

Published Sep 21, 2022, 10:37 AM by Doug Norris, PhD - Senior Vice President and Chief Demographer
Doug Norris explores the fifth wave of data released from the 2021 Census highlighting housing conditions and First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations across Canada


The fifth wave of data from the 2021 Census was released by Statistics Canada this morning, covering two topics: the housing situation in Canada and the country’s Indigenous population, made up of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.


Home ownership drops and condos are becoming increasingly popular

In 2021 two-thirds of Canadian households (66.5 percent) were homeowners, down from 2016 (69 percent). The growth in renter households (21.5 percent) was more than double the growth in owner households (8.4 percent).

There was a decline in home ownership for all ages. In 2021, the ownership rate for persons aged 25-34 was 45.5 percent, down from 48.4 percent in 2016. At the other age extreme, the home ownership rate for those aged 75 and over in 2021 was 71.5 percent, down from 72.1 percent in 2016.

Condos continue to grow in popularity. In 2021, 15 percent of occupied housing were condos up from 13.3 percent in 2016. Between 2016 and 2021, 34.1 percent of all dwellings constructed in Canada were condominiums compared to 21 percent for those constructed from 2011-2016.

In Toronto (55.8 percent), Vancouver (54.3 percent) and Montreal (51.7 percent), the majority of all dwellings constructed between 2016 and 2021 were condos. The young population under age 35 (22.8 percent) and seniors aged 85 or older (19.0 percent) were most attracted to condo living.

Meanwhile, mainly as a result of pandemic related boosts to income, there was a drop in unaffordable housing, or the proportion of households that spent 30 percent or more of their income on shelter costs, that fell from 24.1 percent in 2016 to 20.9 percent in 2021. The drop in unaffordable housing was highest for renters, 40.0 percent in 2016 to 33.2 percent in 2021. The largest declines were among low-income renters who benefited most from pandemic payments.

Almost 1.5 million households in Canada lived in “core housing need” defined as living in an unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable dwelling. The core housing need rate fell from 12.7 percent in 2016 to 12.1 percent in 2021, mainly due to pandemic related income increases.


Nearly two million people identified as Indigenous

The pandemic presented major challenges to the collection of Census data on reserves and in the North. In 2021, 63 reserves or settlements were not able to be completely enumerated—up from 14 in the 2016 Census.

The Indigenous population in Canada continues to grow at an above average rate. The Census reported the total Indigenous population to be 1.8 million accounting for 5 percent of Canada’s total population. The growth rate of the Indigenous population was 9.4 percent down from 18.9 percent in 2011-2016.

First Nations accounted for 58 percent of the Indigenous population, and Métis 35 percent of the population. The Inuit population numbered 70,000 or 3.9 percent of the total Indigenous population. Overall, 83 percent of all Indigenous people counted in the Census lived off reserve. For First Nations, after accounting for the reserves not enumerated, approximately a third lived on a reserve.

Among the provinces, Ontario reported the largest Indigenous population (407,000), but Manitoba and Saskatchewan had the highest concentrations at 18.1 percent and 17 percent of the total population, respectively.

The Indigenous population is very young, with 25 percent under the age of 15, compared to 17 percent of the total population. Only 9.5 percent are aged 65 or older, although Indigenous seniors increased by 41 percent between 2016 and 2021.

Housing continues to be an important issue for the Indigenous population. In 2021, 17.1 percent of the Indigenous population lived in crowded housing compared to 9.4 percent of the non-Indigenous population. In addition, 16.4 percent of the Indigenous population lived in a dwelling that needed major repairs compared to 5.7 percent of the non-Indigenous population.

In 2020, nearly one in five Indigenous people (18.8 percent), not living on reserve or in the North where the low-income concept is not applied, were living in a low-income household. This was down nearly 10 percentage points, mostly driven by the pandemic payments.


Implications for marketers


It is widely believed that there is a housing shortage in Canada’s large cities. The high levels of future population growth due to immigration will further increase the demand for housing. Governments have recognized the shortages, and if housing starts are increased, this would increase the number of new homeowners.

As the large population of Baby Boomers move into their sixties and seventies, they face many decisions about how and where they want to live as seniors. The evidence to date suggests Boomers will follow many different paths. Some will decide to stay in their family home, perhaps undertaking renovations to upgrade and make their home more accessible. Others may choose to downsize some to an adult community, others to a condo and still others to a high-end rental property. Homebuilders and renovators need to better understand the preferences of seniors today, whose tastes are very different from the seniors of yesterday.

The high growth of the population aged 85 and over will result in an increased demand for housing and services that allow the older population to continue to live in their own homes. Innovative homebuilders can show leadership in developing new housing alternatives that allow the older population to age in place and remain in their communities where they can be close to family and friends.

Assisted living residences for seniors—as well as new forms of long-term care—will also attract increased attention as health problems arise among aging Canadians and their ability to live independently wanes.


Indigenous population

As the Census showed, Canada’s young Indigenous population is growing much faster than the rest of the population. In areas of high concentration, the young Indigenous population can be an important source of labour at a time of increasing labour shortages. Governments and employers need to reach out to Indigenous youth to help them gain the education and training required to become members of tomorrow’s workforce.

More generally, marketers also have the opportunity to reach out and attract Indigenous consumers, especially in urban areas that are home to many Indigenous people.

Housing and other living conditions on many reserves continue to need attention from governments at all levels.


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