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Vancouver’s population has shrunk for the first time in 40 years

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After decades of steady growth, Vancouver’s population has experienced its first decline since the 1970s.

Statistics Canada data shows the city’s population in 2020 was 700,015, but the following year it drops to 693,235, a difference of 6,780. A sociology professor at the University of Columbia Briton recently explained the reasons and meaning behind these numbers in a recent interview with Vancouver Is Awesome.

Dr. Nathanael Lauster explained that perhaps unsurprisingly, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has a big role to play in the city’s population decline. Interestingly, however, other populations in Metro Vancouver did not suffer. In fact, North Vancouver grew by 842 from 2020 to 2021.

“We’re actually seeing bumps and a lot of suburbanization around Vancouver and those bumps are pretty consistent with the expectation that a lot of young adults probably went home during this time,” Lauster said.

The student factor

These young adults, Lauster explained, make up a significant number of the city’s temporary residents. These include UBC students who started taking online classes in early 2020 as well as downtown service workers.

This has also been demonstrated by an increase in housing prices in suburbs outside of Vancouver, a move many have been able to make thanks to the ability to work from home.

“It’s a combination of young adults returning home and others taking up telecommuting opportunities and leaving the central city, particularly in response to the high housing prices in this central city,” Lauster continued.

Speaking of housing prices, a drop in population in Vancouver could lead to lower rental rates for individuals, Lauster said.

“A decline in population may correspond with a decline in asking rents, as landlords actually start to compete for tenants that we haven’t seen in Vancouver for a long, long time,” Lauster explained, adding that the area had experienced something similar in late 2020 when CMHC rent surveys showed rental apartment vacancy rates hit a level they hadn’t seen in decades.

Forecasts made difficult

With that in mind, Lauster cautions that current numbers are subject to change and are preliminary.

“In the past, you could kind of rely on this data…but the assumptions on which these estimates work are really a bit messed up in the current COVID moment,” Lauster said.

As for the still uncertain future, Lauster expects Vancouver’s population to pick up — pandemic permitting.

“People will come back to the city of Vancouver,” Lauster said. “When will that happen is still an open question.”

Lauster went on to speculate that if the pandemic escalates again and more semesters were to be held online, a corresponding demographic decline could be seen. If universities and service work were to return and restrictions were lifted, he fully expects to see people flooding into the city.

“I wouldn’t bet on the idea that Vancouver is going to lose more population on a regular basis,” Lauster said. “As long as the pandemic subsides.”