General Motors has been a cornerstone of the Oshawa community ever since Colonel Sam McLaughlin started the McLaughlin Motor Car Company here in 1907. The company's impact on the local economy has been instrumental in the growth of Oshawa and surrounding communities, including the local real estate market.
At its peak in the 1980s, the local plant would employ about 23,000 people directly, with thousands more jobs at supporting companies nearby. In 1981, Oshawa's population was under 120,000. The company was the largest employer in the area by a wide margin. At that time, the impact of a substantial downturn or closure would have been severe to local real estate values, given the proportion of workers impacted to the local population.
Employment at the plant has steadily declined over the years, as various vehicle models shifted production to other GM facilities and numerous plants and lines were decommissioned. In November of 2018, GM announced that it would halt production in Oshawa by the end of 2019. At the time, there were approximately 2,500 people employed by the plant, plus hundreds more at supporting companies.
In the interim, there have been announcements by the company on programs to help affected employees transition to other roles within the GM Canada umbrella. These include other plants and dealerships. They also worked with various levels of government to help those who wished to transition to different careers with education and training programs. Others had options for early retirement.
Given that the number of employees affected was close to 10% of that at the company's peak in the 80s, and that the current population of Oshawa sits at about 166,000, the net impact shouldn't be anywhere near as bad as some media outlets have indicated.
Further, we can take a look at real estate statistics from the local market.
Oshawa's average residential resale home price actually increased 3.0% in December of 2018 (over November 2018), while the Toronto Real Estate Board's overall price declined 4.8% in the same period. Oshawa's average price did drop in January but has recovered in the meantime.
The typical seasonal cycle would show a downturn in price in December, so the TREB figure isn't surprising - it recovered in the spring. The part that is noteworthy is that prices in Oshawa, and all of Durham region, didn't show a substantial drop during last winter compared to the GTA.
I think that it is fair to surmise that GM's recent impact on the local real estate market has been at least somewhat inconsequential. Much of its performance doesn't have to do with GM, but more with what else is driving the local market.
Average prices in Durham are far lower than districts to the west or north of Toronto. Add in the mortgage stress tests and limits on mortgage insurance financing, and Durham Region has become a hot spot for families and new immigrants wanting more than a condominium with a reasonable commute time to downtown Toronto.
Add to that the continued and planned expansions to GO train service, expansions to major highways including the 401, 407, 412 and 418, and you have lots of reasons for people to be taking a long, hard look at Durham for their next move.