Thinking of leaving Toronto? You’re not alone. The city’s soaring cost of living has been pushing young people out for years, and the pandemic has accelerated the trend.
According to Statistics Canada, the country’s two largest metro areas, Greater Toronto and Greater Montreal, saw a record outflow of people to nearby towns and cites between July 2019 and July 2020 ― with much of it taking place even before the pandemic shut down so much of city life at the end of last winter.
More than 50,000 people left Toronto for other parts of Ontario during that 12-month period, and ― hit hard by pandemic lockdowns ― the region now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, at 10.7 per cent. Meanwhile, the average condo price (never mind a house) was above $600,000 in 2020.
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High living costs and few job opportunities make the conditions ripe for an exodus. You can see it in the data ― falling condo prices in Toronto, and soaring house prices and rental rates in the nearby cities of southern Ontario.
So you may want to move fast, before these smaller cities find themselves in the grip of a housing affordability crisis ― something that may already be happening.
Some of these cities are considerably more likely to have job opportunities than others ― although that may be irrelevant to the new army of work-from-home employees.
This means many people leaving Toronto will want to be within a few hours’ drive of the city. So in ranking the best cities to move to from Toronto, we limited ourselves to those places that are within 250 km or so of the big city, and then we weighed them by two factors: The job situation and house prices.
We ranked about a dozen cities within the radius, awarding points for low house prices and low unemployment rates, and subtracting them for high house prices and high jobless rates. Here are the five best cities to move to from Toronto.
(Note: Job numbers, house prices and rental rates are for December, 2020)
Close enough to Toronto to be on the GO Train line to Union Station, this once-struggling auto town seems to have had a strong year amid the pandemic. The city has 3.2 per cent more jobs than a year ago, and with major investments coming into Canadian auto towns in the next few years, Oshawa is likely to see more good times ahead. Though its house prices are the highest on this list, they are among the lowest for any community you can (arguably) commute daily to Toronto from.
Benchmark house price: $691,000 (up 19.1% in a year)
Average one-bedroom rent: $1,400 (up 8.5% in a year)
Ranking on the BMO Labour Market Report Card: 6 out of 33
Jobless rate: 7.8% (number of jobs up 3.2% from a year ago)
The university town 100 km west of Toronto did very well for itself during the 2008-09 financial crisis, and is proving itself resilient once again in the COVID-19 pandemic, with more jobs today than before the pandemic began. But its cost of living is higher than most cities on this list.
Benchmark house price: $679,300 (up 19.5% in a year)
Average one-bedroom rent: $1,549 (up 10% in a year)*
Ranking on the BMO Labour Market Report Card: 2 out of 33
Jobless rate: 5.8% (number of jobs up 0.7% from a year ago)
The town that boasts being home to both Alexander Graham Bell and Wayne Gretzky has had a rough year for its many small businesses, but still trumpets a seemingly healthier job market than Toronto, and an affordable lifestyle for people telecommuting from the GTA.
Benchmark house price: $517,000 (up 23% in a year)
Average one-bedroom rent: $1,350 (up 13% in a year)*
Ranking on the BMO Labour Market Report Card: 14 out of 33
Jobless rate: 6.1% (number of jobs down 3.4% from a year ago)
In some ways, London’s economy resembles that of a big city. The region of nearly 700,000 people is known for its medical and insurance industries, on top of manufacturing and agriculture. And its house prices are a dream to someone coming from Toronto, even after a very hot year.
Benchmark house price: $487,000 (up 23% in a year)
Average one-bedroom rent: $1,230 (up 4.2% in a year)
Ranking on the BMO Labour Market Report Card: 16 out of 33
Jobless rate: 7.7% (number of jobs unchanged from a year ago)
About 260 km east of Toronto on Highway 401, this former capital of Canada has a charming historic downtown core and a very respectable 5.7-per-cent unemployment rate. And it hasn’t seen as much of a run-up in house prices in recent years as many other places, making it one of the most affordable cities of its size in Ontario.
Benchmark house price: $504,712 (up 18.8% in a year)
Average one-bedroom rent: $1,250 (up 2.5% in a year)
Ranking on the BMO Labour Market Report Card: 7 out of 33
Jobless rate: 5.7% (0.1% more jobs than a year ago)
House price data is from the Canadian Real Estate Association. Rental rates are from Padmapper, except for *Brantford and Guelph, where rental rates are from Zumper. Labour market data is from Statistics Canada.