Despite a whole lot of urban residential development projects lately, Montreal is still losing about 20,000 young people to the surrounding suburbs each year. The city recently released this ad campaign which targets young families.
The second ad immediately brought to mind some research that I did while working on Équiterre’s ecological transportation project a few years ago. As as educator in alternative transportation, I regularly met people who claimed that they were “prisoners of their cars” (a direct quote) because their suburban neighbourhoods were not serviced by adequate public transit, and were to far to use cycling as a viable means of transportation. They often told me that they would love to settle in the city but it was simply to expensive.
So I decided to crunch some number to try and determine whether city living is really reserved for a wealthy elite, or whether this is simply a common misperception.
First, take a look at the price of housing – the following map shows the cost of a 2-bedroom condo in 2005 according to statistics collected by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Note that the CMHC stats lump together some boroughs such as the Westmount-NDG-CDN-CSL-Outemont blob in the centre of the island where housing prices are at their highest. A similar map could be drawn for single-family dwellings, although there are obviously far fewer available in the central areas. Renters have far less of a variation in cost across the region.
As you’d expect, housing prices decrease the further you go from the urban centre. But what happens when you take into account that car-ownership is a necessity in most suburban areas, and some families require 2 or 3 cars to meet their commuting needs?
The next map shows the number of cars owned per household in 2003 (the mode is used, in order to display the number of cars owned by the majority of households in each borough or municipality).
These statistics are from the Agence Métropolitaine de Transport’s 2003 Enquête Origine-Destination. They do this study every 5 years and are currently collecting data for the 2008 edition. In
RosemontVilleray, the Plateau, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, and Cote-des-Neiges, the majority of families did not own a car in 2003.
The Canadian Automobile Association estimates that owning and operating a car costs about $10,000 per year (driving 18k km). This includes financing, insurance, gas (at a moderate $1 per litre) and maintenance, but does not include parking fees.
The next map ads together the cost of the housing with vehicle ownership over a 10 year period. We can see that the cost of living evens out quite a lot across the region:
A couple of things are oversimplified and not taken into account in this analysis. One is the variation in property taxes, which are generally higher in Montreal than in the surrounding areas. Another is that suburban households may be larger on average, which could explain part of their higher degree of car ownership. I hope to do a more complete analysis once the 2008 data becomes available.
One of the main obstacles facing young families who do want to live in the city is the availability of suitable housing. The city of Montreal recently announced a subsidy of $15,000 per unit for developpers who meet a number of family-friendly criteria such as multiple bedrooms, yard access, and accessibility to services. A first phase of this project aims to provide 300 new family-oriented homes, although admittedly this is hardly a stop on flow of young families towards the suburbs.