How 'demand shock' is making some London families house poor

A new report suggests that despite appearances, a growing number of London homeowners are secretly struggling to pay the mortgage or rent.

The average shelter-to-income ratio for house poor homeowners before taxes is 54 per cent

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates that in 2016, about one in six London households is considered house poor. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

A new report suggests that despite appearances, some families are secretly struggling to pay their mortgage or rent, with nearly one in six London families considered to be house poor. 

The report, compiled by the City of London using data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), paints an unsettling picture when it comes to housing affordability in London.

In the last couple years [London] has really been hit with a demand shock.- Andrew Scott, CMHC senior analyst

The report suggests that 14 per cent of all London households are considered house poor, meaning they spend more than 30 per cent of their household income on shelter. 

Among those considered house poor, the average shelter-to-income ratio for homeowners in London before taxes is 54 per cent, while renters in that category spend 49 per cent. 

'Demand shock'

Much of it can be contributed to the city's ongoing housing shortage, according to Andrew Scott, a senior analyst with the CMHC. 
Andrew Scott is a senior analyst with the CMHC. (Andrew Scott/LinkedIn)

"In the last couple years [London] has really been hit with a demand shock," he said. "The big thing that we're seeing is that there's been a big increase in population growth."

In fact, London's population growth rate has almost doubled to nearly five per cent between 2011 and 2016, with the rate of people moving from the GTHA to London swelling by 40 per cent since 2011. 

Add to that a red hot economy, one of the lowest jobless rates in a decade, record low housing inventories and a shortage of people working in construction and the skilled trades and the result is people making difficult financial choices.

Scott said faced with limited options, many people are forced to go into a situation where they're struggling to put a roof over their head. 

"They can't find anything that's 30 per cent of their income. That's not available on the market," he said. "They don't have a choice."

Explosive growth

London has seen explosive growth in recent years, with many areas of the city pushing into what was once farmland. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Nowhere is London's explosive growth more evident than on the city's southwestern rim, where suburban neighbourhoods are aggressively pushing into what were once fields and farm houses in Bostwick and Talbot Village.

The district is developing so rapidly that Anna Hopkins, the city councillor for the area, said she made it her mission to be the chair of the city's environment and planning committee at London city hall because, in her words, "I need to know what's going on."
Anna Hopkins is the London city councillor for ward nine. (City of London)

Hopkins said the problem with housing affordability is that with the current state of the city's housing market, being house poor is no longer limited to low income families.

"I think we're all in a situation that if you lost your job, what would you do, what can you afford and where can you go?"  

She said the problem isn't just limited to working families or people with large mortgages, even seniors thinking of downsizing their empty nests are staying put because there are few options available. 

"People in my ward that have lived in London all their lives and see the increase in their properties, and if they have to move the question now becomes: can they afford to buy it?" 

It's a question that more and more people seem to be saying no to as ever-tightening housing inventories begin to put a chill into what was once a red-hot real estate market. 

Now the Ontario government has ordered a public consultation, asking communities for ideas and proposals for how to break the shortage of housing in communities across the province. 

London city council has until January 25 to submit a report to the provincial government. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca