Year Ahead

The Year Ahead: Housing in 2024

Interest rates will finally give it a rest, while household debt spirals out of control. Cities will flood the market with rental projects (and ask provinces to foot the bill). And new housing stock will crop up in creative places—office buildings, laneways and tiny-home communities.
Caitlin Walsh Miller

1. Cities will ask provinces to chip in funding…

Mere months after entering office, Toronto mayor Olivia Chow unveiled a behemoth, $36-billion plan to build 65,000 rental units in the next seven years—more than 20 per cent of the additional 300,000 units needed in the Greater Toronto Area over the next 10 years. The catch? The Ontario and federal governments will each have to kick in a cool $500 to $800 million annually for the rest of the decade, not to mention billions in low-cost loans to the public builder, a.k.a. the city. Provided talks don’t break down, the initiative will soon boost Toronto’s hyper-competitive market with 6,500 more geared-to-income and 41,000 affordable rentals, plus 17,500 units under much-needed rent control.

2. …And the feds will dial up pressure on cities

A full five years after the federal government released its 10-year National Housing Strategy, the taps have finally opened on its $4-billion Housing Accelerator Fund, or HAF. More than $670 million is already promised to cities like Calgary, Kelowna, Hamilton and Halifax, and building proposals from St. John’s and Charlottetown are now in negotiations. With great money comes great responsibility, however: access to the funds seems dependent on cities adhering to certain federally favoured density-boosting guidelines released last October, like removing parking requirements and exclusionary zoning. Plenty of HAF money is expected to be doled out in 2024 and through 2027, at which point, Trudeau and Co. hope to have 100,000 new homes to show for it.

3. Purpose-built rentals will pop up—and fast

Last fall, the feds eliminated their five per cent GST on any purpose-built rentals that kick off construction before the end of 2030 (think long-term student housing and apartment buildings). Then they called on provinces to slash their portion of the sales tax. Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are the only backers thus far, but as a result, a slew of projects, once paused due to cost worries, are back in play. (Fitzrovia, a major Toronto developer, estimates it’ll be able to build 3,000 once-stalled units by this fall.) Throw in a recent $20-billion federal fund-dump into Canada Mortgage Bonds, which unlocks more government-secured financing for builders of multi-unit projects, and it’s easy to understand Ottawa’s new supercharged enthusiasm for purpose-built rentals—
an estimated 30,000 more every year.

4. Interest rates will come down (at some point)

After a stressful 18-month-long campaign by the Bank of Canada—during which the country’s key rate climbed to a two-decade high of five per cent—it looks like rates will soon come back down to earth. Last summer, job vacancies hit their lowest level since May of 2021, and GDP growth stalled despite our surging population: both signals of a slowing economy. Precisely when relief will come is still TBD. Per a Reuters poll released last September, the earliest chance for a deep cut should come in the second quarter of 2024. RBC, on the other hand, says the slash probably won’t happen until fall. And BMO says the rate will drop 50 basis points by year’s end.

5. The tiny-home movement will sweep the nation

Tiny homes are catching on coast to coast as a new way to fight homelessness. Last fall, B.C.’s Ministry of Housing announced that 60 single-room units in Kelowna would be ready for occupancy early in 2024. The Halifax Regional Municipality recently allocated land for a new 52-unit community in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, which is expected to welcome residents this summer. And Fredericton’s 12 Neighbours has built 70-plus micro-homes on a once-empty plot, with more to come. In many of these communities, rent is geared to income—no more than 30 per cent of tenants’ earnings—and includes wraparound supports, like job opportunities and mental health care. Two key issues remain: securing permanent sites and, as with Canada’s large-home market, reliable funding.

6. Abandoned offices will morph into apartments

As it turns out, a tacky ’70s office tower makes for a ton of light-filled apartment stock (once the ducts and ceiling tiles are cleared out, of course). According to the architecture firm Gensler, in the next five years, roughly 12 per cent of the country’s office buildings could be Cinderella-ed into 70,000 rental units, creating homes for up to 120,000 Canadians. Sticky zoning regulations might get in the way, but expect major municipalities to take a page from Calgary, which introduced development incentives for office-to-residential conversions in 2021. One of Cowtown’s first projects, the 112-unit Cornerstone, is set to open in the first quarter of 2024 and 16 more are in the works.

7. Governments will sweeten the deal on secondary suites

Construction on basement apartments and laneway homes boomed in 2022, only to flatten out last year in the face of climbing interest rates and material costs. Provincial and city governments hope new grant- and loan-based incentives will help revive the building blitz. Last fall, B.C., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland all announced programs whereby homeowners are eligible for up to $40,000 in forgivable loans. Cities like Calgary and Humboldt, Saskatchewan recently created plans of their own—good news for homeowners looking to care for an aging relative (or just mitigate their costs of living).

8. Millions of Canadian mortgages will renew

A whopping $900 billion worth of mortgages are set to renew at Canada’s banks in the next three years—$186 billion of which is expected to turn over in 2024. To anyone who secured a fixed-rate mortgage before the Bank of Canada started its aforementioned hikeathon: watch for a sharp jump in your monthly payments. (Potentially by half.) The good news—and there is good news—is that a rainy-day fund is already under way. Last year, Canada’s banking regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, directed the big banks to divert some extra billions to prepare for defaulted loans. The Bank of Canada has also advised banks to reconsider offering variable rate mortgages with fixed payments, given the number of borrowers facing negative amortization.

9. Household debt will get even more crippling, somehow

Gird your wallets: Canadian households now owe $1.81 for every dollar of disposable income, a debt that’s among the highest in the G7. And while residents of the U.K. and the U.S. seem to be paying theirs down, our debts are only growing. (Thanks, mortgages.) A recent TransUnion report revealed that, in 2023, the average Canadian credit card balance jumped to almost $4,200, up 10 per cent from 2022, while consumer insolvencies rose to their highest level since 2019. Factoring in a pandemic and unrelenting inflation, Canadian consumers have been relatively resilient, but this year could be a breaking point: RBC anticipates mortgage delinquencies could increase by more than a third in 2024.

10. The Airbnb crackdowns will keep on coming

Last March, seven people died in a fire in Old Montreal—six of whom were staying in illegal Airbnbs. By September, Quebec had rolled out new legislation allowing the province to issue fines of up to $100,000 to short-term rental sites for each illegal listing. B.C. entered the fray, instituting a mandatory registry for STR operators set to come into effect this fall. B.C. also imposed a principal residence requirement in communities with more than 10,000 people, meaning hosts can only rent out a property they actually live in. The result is a de facto ban on commercial STRs that would limit short-term stays to home sharing—the idea that launched Airbnb in the first place. Expect further fracases: Airbnb has suggested its B.C.-based hosts take up the issue with their MLAs.

This article is part of the Year Ahead 2024, which is Maclean’s annual look at everything that’s coming your way next year. You can buy the print version right here.