Post-quake Christchurch has higher incomes, thousands fewer residents and almost twice as many unoccupied homes than before the February 2011 disaster, the March census has revealed.

Data from the census, released today, has provided the most accurate snapshot of how the city's population has changed since the catastrophe.

The Statistics New Zealand figures show Christchurch's population on census night dropped to 350,889 - a decrease of 11,076, or 3 per cent, in the seven years since the last census in 2006.

City councillor Jamie Gough said he was unsurprised by the population decrease. "There's always going to be a wave of that when you encounter a disaster of this magnitude.''



Over the same period, the number of unoccupied dwellings in the city rose dramatically. There were 17,784 uninhabited homes, compared with 9438 at the previous census - an increase of almost 90 per cent.

Mr Gough said Christchurch was suffering a housing crisis, and would need to accommodate the expected 30,000 influx of those coming for the rebuild.

"There's a hell of a lot of opportunity ahead of us, but it's just so imperative that we get it right. We are creating the newest city in the world.''

The most deserted areas were in the badly-hit eastern suburbs, including Bexley, Avondale, Avonside, Dallington and Burwood.

The rate of home ownership in Canterbury was 68.3 percent, down from 70.4 percent at the last census, which was in line with a nationwide decline in ownership.

But the rebuild-bolstered regional economy was showing positive signs, with the second-biggest income growth in the country.

The median income for people aged 15 and over was $30,100 - some 5.6 per cent higher than the national median of $28,500, and an increase of 28.1 per cent since the last census.

The census also revealed where people who left the region had gone, and where rebuild workers had arrived from.

Government statistician Liz MacPherson said people who had left Canterbury in the five years since 2008 had mainly moved to the Auckland and Otago regions.

"Those who moved to Canterbury also mainly came from Auckland and Otago, and a large number came from overseas.''

The census revealed Canterbury had the fourth-highest percentage of overseas-born residents in the country, with 19.6 per cent, up 1.7 per cent.

Of those, 27 per cent were Asian, giving the region the equal third-highest percentage of Asian residents; 6.9 per cent.

Selwyn was the fastest growing territorial authority in the country, increasing by a third to 45,000 people.