Much Ado About Nothing: What the Census data say, and don't say, about foreign & temporary residents and unoccupied dwellings

Friends and colleagues, with recent headlines speculating on the share of the City’ unoccupied housing stock ranging between 25 and 50 percent, we thought it was time to resend a link to a report that examines the scale of unoccupied units throughout the region’s municipalities and how we compared to other major metropolitan regions in Canada. Using a tabulation of Statistics Canada’s 2011 Census count data (the 100 percent compulsory sample data rather than the voluntary National Household Survey) which detailed unoccupied units by structure type and units occupied by foreign and temporary residents, we found that the share of unoccupied units in the region, at 5% of the dwelling stock, fell just about spot on the national average.

Further to this, in considering the data for the City of Vancouver, we found that the share of units unoccupied in the City, at 6%, was only marginally above the region-wide average.  Interestingly, much of the difference is explained by the City of Vancouver having a greater share of its housing stock as apartments, and a larger share of apartment units typically being unoccupied relative to ground oriented formats.

Unfortunately, discussions around this issue have suffered from, at best, misrepresentation of the available data to consider the issue. At worst they are further entrenching misconceptions about housing occupancy in the region. Either way, if there is going to be a meaningful discussion about housing, and meaningful policy responses to particular issues or trends that we as residents of the region, feel need attention, it is necessary to have a good understanding of what data are available and what they mean before we draw any conclusions from them.

Please see the links below for a brief overview and a technical report detailing the Census data on the unoccupied housing stock and foreign and temporary residents.

For the overview click here

For the Technical document click here