For years before the pandemic, cities across North America were becoming outrageously expensive. With real estate prices beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest, and rents too high for most working and even middle-class residents, populations have been declining in places like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
North of the border, the fourth-largest city in North America, Toronto, has been growing, but mostly due to international immigration and students, while the city has consistently lost more residents to other parts of the province than it has gained from them.
Lockdowns, social restrictions, the threat of COVID-19, and the normalization of work-from-home seems to have only accelerated that trend.
Where Are People Moving?
The general trend in North America's largest cities seems to be people moving for more space and lower costs. Some are heading out to more rural places where life is quieter, and they can get a lot more space, while others are heading past the immediate suburbs and into cheaper, more industrial "second cities" nearby.
Toronto is the perfect example. Surrounded by a ring of quickly-growing suburbs called the "905," with cottage country to the north and agricultural centres to the south and west, many are moving to places like Niagara. Located on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, Niagara is Ontario's wine country and offers a couple of mid-sized cities like St. Catharine's as well as charming small towns like Niagara on the Lake.
There, builders like Blythwood Homes offer ready to move in custom homes in Niagara that appeal to Torontonians who want more room both inside and out.
A little bit north of Niagara is Hamilton, an industrial city of about half-a-million people. It's also becoming home to a wave of ex-Torontonians seeking a city that offers an older, more walkable downtown core with lots of independent businesses. It may not be as busy, but it offers a similar kind of urban lifestyle, as well as older homes that don't cost a million dollars. The migration to Hamilton has a lot in common with the relationship between San Francisco and Oakland, including decent transit connections for those who still have to head into the office.
This is a trend that's being repeated across North America.
Why Are People Moving?
Money is one of the driving factors behind this trend. The overarching theme is that North America's largest metropolises have become untenably expensive. While they tend to attract younger people who are studying, establishing themselves in careers, and looking for more dating prospects, once those same people start looking to buy a house or raise a family, they find they do a lot more in other places.
But that's not the whole story. Other demographics are also moving, including older adults with plenty of wealth for whom high-rise condos hold less appeal than a dream home out in the country.
Low vacancy rates and bidding wars in these overheated real estate markets haven't just driven up prices; they've also made it a challenge just to find somewhere to live. Anyone given the flexibility to move somewhere else - as millions of new remote workers just have - have decided that they value their money and their mental well-being more than the bright lights in the big city.