Suburban neighborhoods

Urban Sprawl, the Environmentally Friendly Answer to Expensive Housing

From the dawn of the colonial era, Canada, the U.S., and Australia thrived by providing what the landless have always sought. In the vast expanses of these countries, the luckless masses from Britain, Europe, and then the rest of the world, have pursued opportunity to enter the ranks of the property-owning class. Roughly 70 per cent of Americans see homeownership as an essential part of achieving middle class status, but like their counterparts in other English speaking countries, their chances of achieving it are becoming vanishingly small.

Home ownership, which increased substantially across the Anglosphere in the half century after the Second World War, has been falling, not only in the United States but in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, as well. In metro Toronto, the homeownership rate grew from 40 per cent of households in the 1930s to a peak of nearly 70 per cent in 2011 before dropping to 65 per cent in 2021.

Despite the recent drop in home prices, affordability in the U.S. is at the lowest level in at least three decades. This hurts in particular young people, who, rather than buying, may be stuck remaining renters for life. Similar trends in Canada have also driven homeownership, particularly among the young, down. In 1986, it took about five years for a Canadian working full time to save a down payment, notes Maclean’s. “Now, they’d have to save for 17 years — nearly 30 in Vancouver or Toronto.”

These changes are already impacting politics, particularly in urban areas. Core cities like Toronto, once decidedly middle class, have become far less so in recent decades. Increasingly dominated by renters paying high rents, the electorate naturally favour a regime that will control rents and disperse largesse. These dynamics have led to the rise of socialist-oriented movements, even in big American cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.But you cannot blame the left entirely for these conditions. In many places, governments that identified as conservative have embraced such things as “urban growth boundaries” and greenbelts that restrict new housing on the fringe; according to research by demographer Wendell Cox, virtually all the most expensive places in the English speaking world — Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. as well as Britain — have imposed such policies, with similarly awful results.Benjamin Dachis of the C. D. Howe Institute has associated administration of Toronto’s urban containment (greenbelt) program with far higher house prices. By 2019, Toronto’s median multiple — the relationship between house prices and incomes — had reached 220 per cent of its 2004 (pre-urban containment) level. In both Vancouver and Toronto houses have more than doubled relative to incomes since 2004.

Read the rest of this piece at National Post.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.