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Toronto faces 'acute' office market challenges



In the final quarter of 2023, Canada witnessed a record-high downtown office vacancy rate of 19.4 percent, according to a recent report by Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis (CBRE) Canada. The study highlighted a sluggish demand for office spaces in Toronto, where the downtown office vacancy rate surged to 17.4 percent, up from 15.8 percent in the previous quarter.


The primary contributor to the rising vacancies in Toronto, as outlined in the CBRE report, is attributed to new office constructions. Despite a global uptick in office utilization and demand, Toronto faces distinctive challenges, characterized as "acute" by CBRE Canada Chairman Paul Morassutti.


"The office market continues to face challenges, but Toronto’s are particularly acute right now," Morassutti noted in a news release. "Based on global trends, office utilization and demand are picking up. That is helping improve office fundamentals in most Canadian cities. Toronto will also benefit from the overall trends once new construction comes to an end since it is new supply that’s had the biggest impact on the city’s vacancy."


In contrast to Toronto's struggle, other major Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Halifax, experienced improvements in their office vacancy rates. The CBRE report indicated that the demand for in-office work led to the enhancement of office fundamentals in these cities.


Interestingly, CBRE pointed out that office-to-residential conversion programs in Calgary and Ottawa played a significant role in ameliorating office vacancy rates. Calgary's vacancy rate saw a notable decrease to 30.2 percent, while Ottawa's fell to 14.2 percent.


The report highlighted that over 232,000 square meters of office space underwent conversion to residential properties in 2023, constituting 0.5 percent of Canada's total office space. Residential conversions are being touted as a potential solution to both the country's increasing vacancy rates and the prevailing housing crunch.


The success of these conversion initiatives underscores the adaptability of office spaces to meet evolving societal needs. As companies adopt flexible work arrangements and the demand for housing continues to rise, the conversion of surplus office spaces into residential units provides a practical solution to address multiple challenges simultaneously.


While Toronto grapples with the current challenges in its office market, the hope is that, with the completion of new construction projects, the city will align with the positive trends observed in other Canadian cities. As the landscape of work and living spaces evolves, innovative solutions, such as office conversions, may become integral in shaping the future of urban environments across the country.


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