News / Canada

Millennials value commute times over cost when deciding where to live

Distance to the job is the top factor in where young workers choose to live, while they're willing to move further if easy access to transit is available.

The Potter-Davey family in their Mississauga home: from left, Gabriel, 5, Stephanie, Magdalene, 3, Jordan, and Abe the family dog. "Those who commute an hour and a half or greater in each direction — to me that would be a stretch," says Jordan Potter-Davey.

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The Potter-Davey family in their Mississauga home: from left, Gabriel, 5, Stephanie, Magdalene, 3, Jordan, and Abe the family dog. "Those who commute an hour and a half or greater in each direction — to me that would be a stretch," says Jordan Potter-Davey.

When it comes to choosing where they live, it's all about the journey to work for the Toronto region's young professionals.

They ranked commute times ahead of proximity to other amenities and even above the cost of living when it comes to deciding where they will buy or rent a home.

Seventy-six per cent of respondents to a survey for the Toronto Region Board of Trade said their daily commute was one of the top three considerations in where to locate — ahead of distance to amenities (59 per cent) and the cost of living (53 per cent).

Sixty-five per cent said they would compromise on the kind of housing they chose if it meant being closer to work.

Young professionals want easy access to transit and are willing to move further out of the city if it is available, said Jan De Silva, the Board of Trade’s CEO. There's an opportunity to improve housing options for those young professionals by incorporating it in the region's ongoing, multibillion-dollar transit expansion.

"We've got historic levels of transit funding being invested. Rather than thinking about single land-use projects, how do we solve two things at once?" she said.

"How do we make the highest and best use of the land that's been dedicated to the station? A condo over the parking lot . . . it creates additional funding that will cover some of the expansion and maintenance costs," said De Silva.

The online Environics survey showed 77 per cent of the 803 respondents would consider living further from their jobs if they had better public transit.

Only 31 per cent said they relied on a car for an average one-way commute of 37 minutes. Forty-four per cent used transit, with the longest commute time average 42 minutes and 25 per cent walked or biked for an average trip of 21 minutes.

Distance to work was a key consideration for professional engineer Jordan Potter-Davey, 38, when he moved his family to the Toronto area about four years ago.

His commute was something of a moving target since he worked for a general contractor involved in the Union Pearson Express. That meant different work sites along the rail line.

But he and his wife, Stephanie Potter-Davey, a photographer who works from home, decided that the west end made the most sense.

The location still fits now that Potter-Davey works as a senior manager for a downtown consulting firm. His commute takes about an hour each way. He takes a bus to the GO train at Kipling Station about half the time. The other half, he bikes about 50 minutes to work.

"I find the commute I have today to be acceptable. Those who commute an hour and a half or greater in each direction — to me that would be a stretch. That's longer than I'm willing to do," said Potter-Davey.

If he had it to do over, Potter-Davey said he might consider living closer to downtown. But the house his family rents near Burnhamthorpe and Rathburn Rds. has the amenities they need.

"We have two young children and a big dog that all require a lot of space — parks for walks and bike rides and playgrounds," he said.

Both he and his wife grew up in houses with yards.

"The concept of living in a condo downtown with a family — it's just not something that either of us grew up with in New Brunswick. I couldn't see living in that type of environment. It works for a lot of people. It's just not what we chose," said Potter-Davey.

Hong Kong is an example of how housing and commercial development can be incorporated into commuter rail, said the Board of Trade's De Silva, who used to live in Asia.

"You will never see a surface level station for their transit system. The station is under commercial high rise or under a condo complex so that they're able to accommodate densification," she said.

Hong Kong also rigorously tracks occupancy and investment data around housing.

"So they've got a very comprehensive look at what the supply side is for housing and they're using that to calibrate decisions around property coming up for development, trying to influence the size of units that are being developed," she said.

As the region grows, the cost of city living is increasingly out of reach, said Potter-Davey.

"That will become quite problematic for a lot of families," he said. "They will either have to make the choice to live in smaller (spaces) or commute from a greater distance."

When they came to the region from Squamish, B.C., the family didn't know how long they would be staying, so buying a house didn't make sense, said Potter-Davey, whose career has sent him to various North American cities.

"The cost of ownership, particularly for detached homes in the city, is quite high especially relative to the cost of rent. It allows us to have a greater amount of space for less cost," he said.

Home ownership rates are declining in the Toronto region, according to census data released last month. The Board of Trade survey shows that the high cost of housing is making it difficult for millennial workers to save for retirement and pay down debt.

Survey respondents were aged 18 to 39. Forty per cent had a household income of more than $100,000. Eighty-seven per cent had a university degree, including 44 per cent, who had a graduate degree. Ninety per cent were employed full-time and 66 per cent lived downtown.

The survey was distributed in the summer to the board's 1,100 young professionals, CivicAction's Emerging Leaders' Network, the Toronto Youth Cabinet and the Toronto Public Library's New Collection.

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