The London area, long knocked for its slow population growth, is now second among Canada’s fastest-growing areas, newly released statistics show.
The London census metropolitan area, which also takes in Strathroy, St. Thomas and portions of Middlesex and Elgin counties, grew at a rate of 2.3 per cent between 2018 and 2019, Statistics Canada figures published Thursday show.
The London region’s population, as of July 2019, is 545,441.
Migration — of international students, newcomers and people moving from other parts of the province — is the main driver behind the recent trend, which has seen the London area’s population grow by almost 50,000 people since 2014, said Don Kerr, a demographer and professor at King’s University College.
“That is quite significant,” he said. “This population growth for London is pretty high by historical standards.”
In the last year, for instance, the area saw a net gain of 3,817 in intra-provincial migration, meaning people moving from other parts of Ontario to London.
That growth can be explained in part by people being pushed out from the Greater Toronto Area by its high cost of living, a trend known as “drive until you qualify,” said economist Mike Moffatt, a professor at the Ivey School of Business at Western University.
“Families drive as far away as they need to from Toronto to be able to afford a house,” Moffatt said, noting a large portion of those people continue to work in the GTA.
“When you dive into the numbers, it’s largely young families, the biggest group, moving out of the Toronto area . . . It’s not a coincidence that the two fastest-growing parts of Canada are the Kitchener-Waterloo region and London.”
More significant, however, is the 3,146 new immigrants choosing London as their home and the net gain of 4,246 of non-permanent residents, which includes international students, Kerr said.
“It’s really the international migration that is explaining (this growth)”, he said. “And there seems to be an upturn in the number of international students living in the city, which is probably an important part of it.”
Though a growing population is a better problem to have than to be bleeding people, such growth brings its own challenges, including extra pressure on an already tight housing market, an issue explored by The Free Press in its continuing series, Face It.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s latest annual rental market report, the vacancy rate in London sat at 1.8 per cent in 2019, down from 2.1 per cent the year prior. That’s the lowest it has been since 2001, and it was the same rate in 2017.
This has led to a steady increase in rent prices, with CMHC now pegging the average rent for two-bedroom units entering the market at $1,213 a month.
Home prices also continue to rise.
The average sale price for the area was $437,197 in January, which is 13.9 per cent higher than a year ago, according to the London and St. Thomas Association of Realtors.
“Clearly, it has everything to do with demand,” Kerr said.
Though admitting to these realities, Mayor Ed Holder also said London remains an attractive place for people to live in, with a comparably more affordable cost of living than other centres and top amenities like great medical and post-secondary institutions.
“We’ve gone well beyond a city defined as attracting the ‘newlywed and nearly dead.’ We’re a vibrant, progressive city that is busting to break out,” he said.
“I think (these numbers) speak to the confidence businesses and people have in the city, I think it speaks to cost of living in Toronto — that’s another reality.”
The year-over-year London growth would be impressive anywhere, but especially here. London has been averaging a relatively anemic annual population growth of just under one per cent since 2001.
But London area’s growth rate now trails only the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo area, whose population grew by 2.8 per cent over the same period, and is tied with Ottawa-Gatineau as the top three fastest-growing regions in Canada.
The London area’s population growth rate is also well above the national rate, which sits at 1.7 per cent.
The London area jumped three positions from last year’s ranking, which placed the region as the fifth fastest growing community between 2017 and 2018, when it grew by 2.4 per cent.
By contrast, Windsor, two hours further west along Hwy. 401, was ranked 15th in Canada in 2018-2019 growth.
Population growth rate by census metropolitan area, 2018-2019
All CMAs: 1.7 per cent
1- Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo: 2.8 per cent
2- London: 2.3 per cent
3- Ottawa–Gatineau (Ontario part): 2.3 per cent
4- Halifax: 2.2 per cent
5- Saskatoon: 2.2 per cent
6- Edmonton: 2.1 per cent
7- Lethbridge: 2.1 per cent
8- Calgary: 2.1 per cent
9- Abbotsford–Mission: 2 per cent
10- Toronto: 2 per cent