The strength of the local housing market has Niagara ranked the second best in economic performance across the country. A special report from the National Bank of Canada was recently released measuring the Metropolitan Economic Momentum Index of 20 different regions in Canada. According to the study, the strength of Niagara’s economic momentum came from growth in house prices by 28 per cent. Investment in non-residential building construction also grew at 30.6 per cent, outpacing the rest of the country.
The Metropolitan Economic Momentum Index is comprised of six significant economic factors: employment by quarter, unemployment, housing sales, housing starts, house prices and investment in non-residential construction. Two different municipalities were measured in the National Bank study. Overall, Niagara ranked behind only its close neighbour Hamilton, which came out on top due to a sharp uptick in employment levels and high confidence in the economy. Kitchener-Waterloo, Victoria, and Gatineau, Quebec rounded out the top five after Niagara. The housing market in Niagara has been particularly strong in recent years, as prices of both bungalows and two-storey houses have outpaced national averages by double-digits.
In a statement to the media, Niagara Regional Chairperson Alan Caslin was confident about economic strength in the area, in particular highlighting recent investment from General Electric and the expansion of GO Train services.
“I firmly believe the positive increases in our housing market is a direct reflection of Niagara’s strong value proposition,” stated Caslin. “Niagara offers outstanding amenities, fantastic quality of life and opportunities for investment that can’t be found anywhere else.”
However, some in local media were more critical of the criteria behind the report. James Culic of Niagara This Week stated the apparent strength of the housing market and high house prices were not necessarily reflective of a good economy for young families and first-time buyers.
“Most of the new houses are being built for empty nesters who are retiring here from the GTA, but again, that’s not really the massive economic generator we need”, Culic explained, also noting the closing of local schools and lack of affordable housing in Niagara.
Charles Conteh, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Brock University, focuses his research in public policy & management, as well as the intersections of local governance and the ‘seismic’ economic changes of the last few decades.
“The 21st century holds exciting prospects for Niagara. By all projections, the region is positioned to be the next destination of the new wave of urban population and economic growth taking place beyond mega-cities like Toronto,” said Conteh. “The heightened momentum of the region’s real estate market as evident in indicators like housing starts and prices and applications for new developments suggest that the region is on its way to a more promising economic future. Furthermore, the projected arrival of GO Transit daily commuter rail service to Grimsby, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, as well as private sector investment such as the now widely celebrated and anticipated General Electric location in Welland are all positive signs of the times for the region. Niagara is projected to have a population growth of 160,000 people, with an increase in the number of jobs by 150,000 by 2041.”
“However, one must guard against overconfidence and complacency,” Conteh warned. “Niagara must think strategically and collectively about how to exploit the emerging opportunities and confront the new challenges of demographic shifts and economic change to become that prosperous, diverse and inclusive community buzzing with cultural and creative energies, sustainable neighbourhoods, high quality public services and an enviable quality of life.”
Conteh not only teaches at Brock, but is Director of the NCO (Niagara Community Observatory). Located on Brock campus, the NCO is a “public-policy think tank working… to foster, produce and disseminate research on current and emerging issues.” The NCO assembles multiple policy briefs a year, which are written from a non-partisan, evidence-based standpoint and deal mainly with community issues. In November 2017, the NCO released the brief “Youth Employment in Niagara: Mapping the Opportunities”, which discussed the supposed ‘mismatch’ between youth education and youth employment in Niagara.