Douglas Todd: People are moving from other provinces to B.C., but avoiding Metro Vancouver


Analysis: “We have had lots of people from Alberta and the East cashing out and moving to Nanaimo,” says the mayor. Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver is much less of a draw to other residents of Canada.

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“We have had lots of people from Alberta and the East cashing out and moving to Nanaimo — to get away from the crush and the smoke,” says Leonard Krog, mayor of the growing Vancouver Island city.

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During the pandemic, which is changing many Canadians’ housing needs, Nanaimo and other smaller B.C. towns, such as Comox as well as Kamloops and Penticton, are seeing an upsurge of arrivals from across the country.

“House prices are rising up and down Vancouver Island,” said Krog.

A recent Statistics Canada report showed that B.C. received more interprovincial migrants than any other province between 2020 and 2021.

B.C.’s net inter-provincial growth, which captures the number of people who arrived compared to those who left, stood at 34,000 during this COVID period. That compares to 27,000 in 2016, and 16,000 in 2019.

But only a small portion of newcomers to B.C. from other provinces typically move to Metro Vancouver.

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Indeed, in addition, in recent years about 12,000 more people a year have been moving out of Metro Vancouver for other parts of B.C. than have been moving into the metropolis from within the province.

Krog says newcomers are pouring into Nanaimo for several reasons — more affordable housing, less density, and higher-quality lifestyles. Those coming from other provinces are also drawn to the temperate climate, he said. That has especially been the case during COVID, when cross-border travel to warmer countries has been shut down.

Even while Krog, a former NDP MLA, regrets how new demand on housing is pricing condos in his city into the $400,000 to $600,000 range, he recognizes some are crossing the Salish Sea because Nanaimo is still cheaper than unaffordable Metro Vancouver.

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“People are fleeing the Lower Mainland. We used to have the ferries as a bulwark against Lower Mainland people. But now we can’t keep the buggers out,” Krog said, jokingly.

“Now it’s more common for people to ask why would you stay in the Lower Mainland when you can cash out on your $2-million house on a crowded street in Burnaby and get a great home for $1 million in Nanaimo?” During COVID, he said more big-city people are working remotely from home and realizing that offers them mobility.

“We used to have the ferries as a bulwark against Lower Mainland people. But now we can’t keep the buggers out,” says Nanaimo mayor Leonard Krog, jokingly.
“We used to have the ferries as a bulwark against Lower Mainland people. But now we can’t keep the buggers out,” says Nanaimo mayor Leonard Krog, jokingly. jpg

While Metro Vancouver’s real-estate industry often points to inter-provincial migration to explain why housing prices are skyrocketing, the reality is people from other provinces typically only account for about 15 per cent of the metropolis’s growth .

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The vast majority of new arrivals into Metro Vancouver are foreign-born immigrants. The rate of new permanent residents to Metro is normally about 36,000 annually, but that total went down in the past year due to pandemic border restrictions.

Recent Statistics Canada data shows the city of Nanaimo, population 90,000, has been on a per-capita basis absorbing about 13 times more new people from other provinces than Metro Vancouver, population 2.5 million.

In addition, a solid portion of the thousands who each year say goodbye to Metro Vancouver are ending up in Nanaimo, which has been growing by about 1,600 people annually from what StatsCan calls “intra-provincial migration.”

Greater Victoria, unlike Metro Vancouver, is also expanding from absorbing people from within the province. And despite being much smaller, it normally takes in as many people from across Canada as B.C.’s largest city.

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The strong overall shift of residents from other provinces, and from Metro Vancouver, to smaller B.C. cities, which have more young adults, is unsurprisingly impacting housing prices.

The B.C. Real Estate Board’s latest forecast on 2021 housing prices suggests how inter-provincial and intra-provincial migration are making their impact.

With immigration by foreign nationals down in the past 18 months, Greater Vancouver’s already-stratospheric prices (averaging $1.18 million) have gone up the least of any region of B.C. — by about 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, most likely because of the movement of people within Canada, Vancouver Island prices are forecast to jump much more — by 21 per cent (to an average of $643,000).

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Kamloops prices are also set to hike 21 per cent compared to last year (to $556,000), Okanagan prices by 17 per cent (to $691,000), and Greater Victoria prices by 14 per cent ($889,000). That’s despite house sales generally slowing down this fall.

A new housing development in Nanaimo. (Photo credit: City of Nanaimo)
A new housing development in Nanaimo. (Photo credit: City of Nanaimo) Photo by Credit: City of Nanaimo /jpg

Boasting that Nanaimo is a friendly place, Krog is pleased to see increasing ethnic diversity as the city’s new condominium complexes fill up with fresh arrivals.

While 79 per cent of the population of Nanaimo is Caucasian, the mayor said, nine per cent is now Indigenous , three per cent is ethnic Chinese, and two per cent is South Asian.

That contrasts with Metro Vancouver, which is 49 per cent Caucasian, 23 per cent Chinese, 12 per cent South Asian, and three per cent Indigenous — a trendline Krog calls “only natural,” since many newcomers from offshore seek support in a familiar subculture .

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Nanaimo’s rapid growth of two per cent a year, Krog said, is a result of a “perfect storm” of conditions, including the attractiveness of the region’s oceanfront, university, airport, nearby ski mountains, climate and a lower cost of living.

It has all been amplified by the pandemic, he said. COVID-19 is helping many across Canada and in other parts of B.C. realize they might be able to permanently work out of their homes. So why not do it in a place that is pleasant and somewhat more affordable?

[email protected]

twitter.com/douglastodd

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