May 27, 2024

Weekly EconMinute—Housing Starts

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about housing starts.

A “housing start” is exactly what it sounds like: the beginning of construction on a home, such as a single-family residence or an apartment building.

Largely fueled by surging population growth, Canada already has a well-documented housing shortage (particularly in BC and Ontario) and has seen a shortfall in new housing construction as well. Some housing units are quicker to build than others, making them better suited for keeping up with rapid population growth—think building 100 individual houses versus one apartment building with 100 units.

Here, we wanted to see how Alberta stacked up to other major provinces at the start of this year in terms of the number and type of dwellings under construction. For consistency, different types of housing starts are already broken down into individual housing units. However, to make these numbers comparable across provinces, we calculate the number of housing starts for every 1,000 new people living in each province.

Here’s what we found:

  • Alberta started building 224 new housing units per 1,000 newcomers in the first quarter of 2024, ahead of Ontario (166) and just behind Quebec (228).
  • At 65 per 1,000 newcomers, Alberta started building the most single-family homes of any major province. Alberta also built more semi-detached (18) and row house units (30) than any other major province per 1,000 newcomers.
  • By contrast, Alberta started on the fewest apartment units of any major province last quarter, with 111 starts per 1,000 newcomers.
  • BC had significantly more housing starts (385) than any other major province, largely driven by new apartment construction. With 315 starts per 1,000 newcomers, BC is building proportionately more apartments than any other province is building for all housing types combined.
  • Ontario has the fewest overall housing starts per newcomer of the major provinces, and only slightly more starts on apartments than Alberta.

Regardless of the type of housing being built in Alberta, more will be needed. The province has seen the most rapid population growth in the country, straining existing housing capacity. For Alberta to maintain its housing affordability relative to other major provinces, it needs to increase housing starts to match recent population growth—a challenge more quickly addressed with higher-density housing.

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