High house prices and a drop in international migration may explain the slow growth, academics say.
The pandemic has not only slowed various industries, it appears to be at least a factor in Richmond’s significantly reduced population growth.
According to Statistics Canada, Richmond had its second lowest year-over-year population growth in 20 years.
COVID-19 and its impact on employment patterns as well as international immigration may be the reasons, said John Ross, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
However, it is still too early to draw hasty conclusions, he added.
“(The pattern of people moving out of big cities) was already there, which I think can speak to some of the other factors at play, like cost of living and housing affordability.”
Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal have all seen their populations decline, however, Richmond is not a big city. And while it hasn’t seen a decrease in population, it hasn’t seen the increase that other municipalities in the Lower Mainland have seen either.
In 2019, approximately 213,875 people called Richmond home. This number increased to 215,393 in 2020, an increase of 1,518 people. However, in 2021, the census counted only 216,280 Richmond residents, a net growth of just 887 people.
“If you look back over the past 20 years, it was the second-lowest annual growth rate in all those 20 years,” John Ross said, adding that it was an increase of just 0.4. %.
“There were other years in that 20-year period where you could see annual growth numbers of one and a half to two percent. So by Richmond’s own standards, this past year has been a growth pretty low demographic,” Ross said.
Meanwhile, other suburban communities have seen gains, according to the census.
Burnaby welcomed another 2,773 residents in 2021, bringing its population to 260,918. Langley’s population grew from 161,654 in 2020 to 166,400 in 2021, a net growth of 4,702. Surrey added an additional 13,006 residents in 2021, bringing its total population to 614,646.
The fact that Richmond appears to be an exception among mid-size suburban municipalities may point to the city’s high rate of international migration as well as its high housing prices, Ross said.
The census found Vancouver had lost residents, dropping from 700,015 in 2020 to 693,235 in 2021. This trend was also seen in major cities like Toronto and Montreal, Ross said.
An urban exodus is also occurring in major cities across the United States, including Chicago, New York, Minneapolis and Seattle, Ross said, citing a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland study.
However, issues such as riots and protests may be additional factors, he added.