CPABC: Northeast B.C. population growth slowed due to COVID-19 pandemic while housing prices soared

FORT ST. JOHN, British Columbia, June 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- According to BC Check-Up: Live, an annual report by the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC) on demographic and affordability trends across the province, Northeast B.C. only welcomed 88 new residents in 2020, less than one-third the amount in 2019, bringing the region’s population to 72,280 residents.

“The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the flow of migrants across the world, and Northeast B.C. was no exception,” said Ben Sander, FCPA, FCA, partner at Sander Rose Bone Grindle. “While this is expected to be a one-off situation, the number of non-permanent residents, such as temporary foreign workers, arriving in the region fell sharply in 2020.”

Still, the region saw a net gain of 209 residents from outside the country in 2020. However, the economic uncertainty from the pandemic reduced the number of work opportunities in the region and saw a net of 629 residents leaving Northeast B.C. for other parts of the province and Canada, over a third of which were 25 to 39 years old. This could be a troubling sign for the region as it has long enjoyed a relatively young population. The average age in Northeast B.C. was 36.6 in 2020, six years below the provincial average of 42.6.

“While 2020 was a challenging year, Northeast B.C.’s economy has been improving and fewer residents are leaving the region in recent years,” noted Sander. “The region’s population growth has also benefited from having a young population and the strongest natural growth rate in the province. In fact, the number of births exceeded mortalities by 508 in 2020.”

While the cost of housing in the region remains relatively affordable compared to other parts of the province, Northeast B.C. has seen housing prices on the rise recently. As of May 2021, the average home sold for $272,053 in the South Peace River area, up by 32.7 per cent compared to May 2020.

A lack of supply has been part of the issue, with just 421 housing units completed compared to 1,485 new residents in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek between 2017 and 2020.

“In just one year, the average price of a home sold increased by nearly a third,” concluded Sander. “This has eroded some of the advantage the region had in terms of housing affordability compared to other parts of the province. This could push local residents out, and discourage would-be migrants from coming, and highlights the need for greater housing supply.”

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The Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC) is the training, governing, and regulatory body for over 37,000 CPA members and 5,500 CPA candidates and students. CPABC carries out its primary mission to protect the public by enforcing the highest professional and ethical standards and contributing to the advancement of public policy. CPAs are recognized internationally for bringing superior financial expertise, strategic thinking, business insight, and leadership to organizations.