After decades of steady growth, Vancouver’s population took its first downturn since the 1970s.
Data from Statistics Canada shows the city’s population in 2020 at 700,015 but the next year dipping down to 693,235, a difference of 6,780. A professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia recently broke down the reasons behind and the meaning of those numbers in a recent interview with Vancouver Is Awesome.
Dr. Nathanael Lauster explained that perhaps unsurprisingly, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has a large part to play in the city’s population decline. Interestingly though, other Metro Vancouver city's populations didn’t suffer. In fact, North Vancouver’s rose by 842 from 2020 to 2021.
“We actually do see bump ups and a lot of the suburbs around Vancouver and those bump ups are pretty consistent with the expectation that a lot of young adults probably moved back home during that period," Lauster said.
The student factor
Those young adults, Lauster explained, make up a significant number of temporary residents for the city. Those include students at UBC who began taking classes online at the start of 2020 as well as service workers downtown.
This was also evidenced by an increase in housing prices in suburbs outside Vancouver, a move many were able to make thanks to being able to work from home.
"It's a combination of young adults moving back home and other people taking up telework opportunities and moving out of the central city, especially in response to high housing prices in that central city,” Lauster continued.
Speaking of housing prices, a population decline in Vancouver might spell lower rent rates for individuals, Lauster said.
“A drop in population can correspond with a drop in asking rents as landlords actually start competing for tenants which we haven't seen in Vancouver for a long, long time," Lauster explained, adding the region had seen something similar in late 2020 when CMHC rent surveys saw vacancy rates in rental apartments go up to a level that they haven't reached for decades.
Predictions made difficult
With this in mind, Lauster warns the current numbers are subject to change and are preliminary.
“In the past, you could kind of rely upon this data… but the assumptions by which those estimates work are really kind of messed up in the current COVID moment," Lauster said.
As for the ever-uncertain future, Lauster expects Vancouver’s population to pick back up again – pandemic permitting.
"People will return again to the city of Vancouver,” Lauster said. “As to when that occurs is still an open question."
Lauster went on to speculate that if the pandemic escalated again and more semesters were to be held online, a corresponding population decline could be seen. If universities and service work were to come back and restrictions were lifted he fully expects to see people flooding back into the city.
"I wouldn't bank on the idea that Vancouver is gonna lose more population in a steady sense,” Lauster said. “So long as the pandemic does lighten."