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Toronto housing market would stay unaffordable even in deep recession: report

A person walks by a row of houses in Toronto on Tuesday July 12, 2022. Realtors are expecting a spring shift in a housing market that has been sluggish since last year, when prospective buyers started putting off plans to purchase homes as the Bank of Canada aggressively hiked interest rates eight times. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Housing affordability in Toronto would remain strained even in the event of a deep economic recession, a new Desjardins analysis has found. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston) (The Canadian Press)

Housing affordability in Toronto would remain strained even in the event of a deep economic recession, a new Desjardins analysis has found, highlighting the challenge ahead in addressing the housing crisis.

“After years of being priced out of the market, many prospective Toronto homebuyers now sense an opening with a recession looming. But even in the direst of economic scenarios, we don’t see affordability returning to Canada’s largest city anytime soon,” the report, authored by Desjardins chief economist Jimmy Jean and principal economist Marc Desormeaux, said.

“Our analysis underscores the extremely difficult starting position for both first‑time home buyers and policymakers seeking to improve housing affordability. Consequently, plans to boost the supply of affordable housing can’t fall short. It’s just not an option.”

In their report, the Desjardins economists projected future Toronto house prices under three different scenarios: a severe 1990s-style recession with strong construction rates, a moderate recession, and one featuring weak listing levels and strong population growth.

The scenario featuring a 1990s-style recession would see the average Toronto price fall 16 per cent, or $185,000, from July 2023 levels by the end of 2024, and drop a total of 30 per cent, or $340,000, by the end of 2025. The average price of a home in the Greater Toronto Area according to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) was $1,118,374 in July.

Still, the economists noted that such a fall in prices would bring the home-price-to-disposable-income level back to what it was in late 2015, when the ratio was "still-stretched" and prices began to surge in the GTA.

They also wrote that “the costs of this worst-case scenario would be enormous.”

“Compared to our base‑case economic forecast for Ontario, a 1990s‑style recession would result in net total provincial job losses approaching 500,000 by (the fourth quarter of) 2025. By that time, province‑wide employee compensation would sit more than $35 billion lower than in our baseline projections,” the economists wrote.

In a moderate recession scenario, Toronto home prices would bottom out by the end of 2024 at about 5 per cent below July 2023 levels, returning the home-price-to-per-capita-disposable-income level back to early 2021.

In the third scenario the economists assumed population growth remains at current record rates, while new home listings in the Toronto market remain tight. Under this situation, which the economists said is “the most optimistic for current homeowners," they estimate that prices would rise past the peak reached in February 2022 by early 2025.

“Although this would be great news for property owners, it is the least positive of our scenarios for prospective buyers,” the economists wrote.

“The sales price‑to‑disposable income ratio per working aged person would exceed its pandemic‑era peak by mid‑decade.”

The economists wrote that the analysis shows improving housing affordability "is particularly daunting in Canada's largest city."

“Striking as these results may be, we’ve always known that restoring housing affordability was a long‑run process. Our analysis reinforces that view, as well as the need to successfully implement ambitious plans to boost the housing supply," the economists wrote.

“Considering the depth of the current crisis and the significant amount of time and effort needed to remedy it, we can’t waste time on blame or partisan attacks. Instead, we need all levels of government and the private sector to work together to address the herculean challenge ahead. Toronto’s — and indeed our country’s — status as a welcoming and prosperous place to live depends on it.”

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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