We’re One CHEAP City

Media Appearances, Housing Affordability, Wendell Cox

The cost of buying a home in Winnipeg has jumped, but a new study says it’s still one of the most affordable cities to live in.

For the second year in a row, Winnipeg was ranked among the most affordable places to live in an international study. Regina is considered the most affordable city in Canada, with Winnipeg and Quebec City tied in second place.

The study was done by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and measured the cost of buying a home compared to a person’s salary in cities in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Winnipeg’s affordability ranked ninth overall — well ahead of dozens of cities — and was comparable to housing prices in Wichita, Kan., Toledo, Ohio and Omaha, Neb.

Speaking to the Free Press on Sunday, study author Wendell Cox of St. Louis had a message for Winnipeg homeowners still not sold on their city.

“When you get up in the morning and it’s very cold in mid-January, ask yourself, ‘Would I be happier in a tiny apartment in Vancouver, (where) it’s raining outside and I’m not a whole lot more comfortable?’ ” Cox said. “The fact is, Winnipeg is very affordable, and I would expect this to continue. These are not things that fluctuate wildly.

“As long as the people in charge — the mayor, city council and provincial politicians — stay out of the way and allow the free development of the market, Winnipeg is in a far-improved, competitive position.”

The median house price in the city is estimated at $130,100, and the median household annual income is about $52,000.

Housing affordability is luring people to Winnipeg, or, in the case of Gail Suszynski, luring them back.

“Anybody going out to Calgary right now on a job offer is crazy, because the prices of homes are unbelievable, and rent is atrocious,” said Suszynski, who recently returned to Winnipeg after living in Calgary since 1993.

Suszynski sold a 900-square-foot unit of a side-by-side in Calgary for $310,000. It sold in less than 30 hours.

She then bought a considerably larger and nicer side-by-side in Winnipeg for less than two-thirds that price.

“I had never really planned on coming back, but with prices going the way they are, and with crime way up in Calgary…,” Suszynski said.

A common house price in Calgary is $300,000 to $400,000 today, “whereas here, it gets you a small mansion,” said Susan Domanski, a Century 21 realtor in Winnipeg.

Even a starter home in Vancouver costs $300,000, compared with $100,000 to $120,000 here, Domanski said. “It’s a world away in terms of prices.”

On average, it takes Winnipeggers 2.5 years of salary to buy a home — up slightly from 2.4 years in 2005.

Last year, Winnipeg was ranked the most affordable place to live in Canada and ranked third compared to other international cities.

Wes Schollenberg, president of Winnipeg Realtors Association, said the study confirms that the city offers a better quality of life compared to cities such as Calgary and Edmonton.

Although the cost of some homes in Winnipeg has jumped 15 per cent in the last year, Schollenberg said that pales in comparison to the average $400,000 price tag in cities such as Calgary.

“There’s always been people who have moved from B.C. and Alberta, especially retirees, who take the equity in their home and live like a king here,” he said. “It’s a bit of a quality-of-life issue.”

Saskatoon, Ottawa, London, Ont., and Oshawa were also included in a list of the top 40 affordable housing markets in the six countries.

Schollenberg expects Winnipeg’s housing market to continue making healthy gains in 2007, but said people shouldn’t worry about skyrocketing prices. He said the rise won’t be as noticeable as it was last year or match the sharp increases seen in provinces such as Alberta.

The cost of construction materials and the demand for skilled labour will help drive up prices, he said. The city’s apartment vacancy rate remains stable, and construction of apartment blocks, seniors’ residences and condos will likely continue to grow.

“We’re just sort of catching up,” Schollenberg said.

Walter Boni, past president of the Winnipeg Real Estate Board, said the only drawback about the city’s housing market is property taxes. He said Manitoba is one of the only provinces that lumps education and property taxes together, making the bill seem that much higher.

He said there is a movement among realtors to get the province to not include education with property taxes, and take away the initial shock of seeing an average annual tax bill of $2,800 for a home worth $160,000.

“Education tax is almost 50 per cent of our tax bill,” he said. “It’s a real shock for people coming here from other places.”

— With files from Jason Bell and Bill Redekop

Most affordable places to live (years of salary required to purchase home)

1) Fort Wayne, Ind. (2.0)

2) Regina, Sask. (2.0)

3) Youngstown, Ohio (2.0)

4) Buffalo, N.Y. (2.3)

5) Dayton, Ohio (2.3)

6) Indianapolis, Ind. (2.3)

7) Rochester, N.Y. (2.3)

8) Akron, Ohio (2.4)

9) Winnipeg (2.5)

10) Des Moines, Iowa (2.6)

Least affordable places to live (years of salary required to purchase home)

1) Orange County, Calif. (11.4)

2) San Diego, Calif. (10.5)

3) Honolulu, Hawaii (10.3)

4) San Francisco, Calif. (10.1)

5) Ventura County, Calif. (9.4)

6) Stockton, Calif. (8.6)

7) Sydney, Australia (8.5)

8) San Jose, Calif. (8.4)

9) London, U.K. (8.3)

10) Dorset, U.K. (8.2)