The Myth of the Single Family Home in Victoria

Despite all the changes in society over the last sixty years, there is still a little bit of that 1950's sense that the ultimate home is a single family house surrounded by a yard. For much of North America it remains the case that the majority of dwellings in our cities are single family houses. 

Victoria has not been immune to this belief and many people in the city do think that there is a house with their name on it in their future. The real estate and media industries play into this ethos with continuous articles about the cheapest or most expensive houses in a region or provide sales statistics that speak first and foremost to the single family house. 

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Being a bit of a data nerd, I look forward to our five year census reports. Slowly, over the last few months Census Canada has been releasing little bits of the 2016 Census. It has mostly been not too surprising. However, when reading the dwelling count table you start to see an amazing story that would likely surprise most of us Victorians. 

We have all heard the basics, in the last five years the population in Greater Victoria has grown by over 23 000 people. That is a 6.6 percent growth in just five years. 

What has also continued to change and what is more surprising, is where we all live. Over 60 percent of all the dwellings in Victoria (162 715 dwellings) are now in multi-family buildings. In 2011, there were 153 000 dwellings, of those 42 percent were single family houses. In the last five years that percentage has decreased to 39 percent. This change puts Victoria in a very distinctive class of city in Canada. Only four cities sit under 40 percent of the residences being single family dwellings, here's how it breaks down. 

Percent of Single Family Dwellings
Percent of Apartment Dwellings
Quebec City

 These numbers are based on the census metropolitan areas and are not just for the City of Victoria, but all surrounding communities too. 

I think that it is astounding that you are more likely to live in a home that shares a wall with another dwelling in Victoria than you are in Toronto or Montreal. 

That said, to show a bit of differentiation between Victoria and those other big cities, the second column shows the percentage of dwellings in apartment buildings both over and under five storeys. As you can see, Victoria then drops far down as the multi-family dwellings in Victoria are more comprised of townhouses and duplexes than those other big cities. 

Still, when people complain about the skyrocketing cost of a single family house in the region and wonder why we are in the same category as Vancouver and Toronto, this is one of the reasons, scarcity. This is also unlikely to change as Victoria has the urban containment boundary and the agricultural and forestry land reserve lands that limit the ability to continuously build new single family homes. More and more, new homes will have to be denser and that means more townhouses and apartments.