Exodus from Toronto powers London-area’s population growth
New data from Statistics Canada seems to back up realtor claims about out-of-town buyers adding to demand in London’s housing market. Newcomers from Ontario are driving a London population growth rate that’s half what it was before the pandemic hit, but still better than Canada as a whole and most other major cities in the province.
The area’s population grew by 5,150 people during the 12 months that ended July 1, 2021. Most of them came from other parts of Ontario, keeping London’s growth on the higher end of all the province’s metropolitan areas, StatsCan figures released Thursday show.
“Considering we are just going through a pandemic, it’s surprising to see we continue to see intra-provincial growth,” said Don Kerr, a demographer and professor at King’s University College.
“That would be consistent with that narrative that you’re always hearing about people moving (here) from Toronto.”
London’s net gain of 3,245 people from elsewhere in Ontario came as Toronto saw a net loss of nearly 65,000 people, according to Statistics Canada.
Overall, the London area grew at a rate of 0.9 percent.
That brings the total population for the census metropolitan area, which takes in Strathroy, St. Thomas and portions of Elgin and Middlesex counties, to 556,397, according to the federal agency.
At 0.9 percent, London grew at a slower pace than it did during the 12 months ended July 1, 2020, when it grew by 1.7 percent, or the year before, when it grew by 2.3 percent.
Even still, and amid the pandemic, the city grew at almost double the pace of the country, with Canada’s population rising by only 0.5 percent during the same period.
The London area growth rate ranked sixth among major metro areas in Ontario.
“We haven’t seen that slow rate of population growth (nationally) in over 70, 80 years, so the fact our city still grew by close to one percent suggests (London), relatively speaking, is doing reasonably well,” Kerr said.
For years, the London area has attracted people from other parts of Ontario, including from the Toronto area, where homeowners can cash out in one of the hottest markets in the country and buy at less cost in London, even with record average selling prices.
The pandemic, with its lockdowns and restrictions, only accelerated that trend, said Mike Moffatt, an economist and professor at the Ivey school of business at Western University.
“If you’re going to be trapped inside, you want to be trapped in a place with a little bit more room where you have a backyard and that kind of thing,” he said.
But it’s not just Toronto-area retirees moving west to places like London. Young families account for a portion of the people coming to the city, Moffatt said.
“You’ve got a lot of people in their late 20s, early 30s, who are in Toronto and who are about to have a kid, or would like to, and say, ‘You know what? This isn’t going to work,’” he said.
“So, that tends to be the dynamic: People from the GTA who would like to have a house, or have a larger place to live, but simply can’t afford that in the GTA market are then moving to places like London.”
London’s housing market isn’t the only draw. Its strong economy, health care and education services also make it an attractive destination for many.
As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced immigration to the country.
But while the number of newcomers dropped significantly across Canada, London still held its own.
Though the city lost many non-permanent residents, including international students, London posted a net gain of more than 2,000 newcomers from outside the country.
On the flip side, population growth through natural birth was down between 2020 and 2021, while the city saw a net loss of 424 people who moved to other provinces.
But growth doesn’t come without its pains, Kerr and Moffatt agreed.
A large number of out-of-town buyers, for instance, has helped push home prices in the London market to never-seen-before heights.
Area realtors last year sold nearly 11,000 homes, only the second year in which home sales have topped 10,000. The average selling price grew by almost 30 percent, reaching $707,000 in December.
“This is contributing to our affordability challenge, and it’s also important we make sure we have enough infrastructure,” Moffatt said.
“And it’s not just enough housing, but making sure that there’s enough schools and doctors and all that supporting infrastructure you need for the population.”