With rents soaring across Canada, some people are getting priced out
Interest rates are rising and the house-buying market is cooling off, putting more strain on rentals
For months, Nathan Armstrong has been scrolling through apartment listings from a tiny motel room in Woodstock, Ont. He and his wife have had to live there for more than a year as they desperately look for a place to rent.
"There's not a lot out there, and they seem to be going up. Fifteen, seventeen, nineteen hundred dollars for a one bedroom apartment," he said. "Our price range is disappearing."
Armstrong described the situation as frustrating and costly. The couple couldn't even prepare their own meals in the motel.
"It is very, very difficult," he said. "Hard to cook as we're not allowed to have our own cooking material. No toaster oven, that's against the fire code."
The couple says they faced denial after denial, losing out on dozens of apartments amid stiff competition during their 16-month search for stable housing.
Rents are indeed rising quickly in the area, according to a recent report by Rentals.ca and Bullpen Research and Consulting. Average apartment rents for the nearest major city — London, Ont. — climbed to $1,933 in June, up 28.5 per cent from the same time last year.
Some analysts predict that the rental market may get even hotter throughout Canada.
Ben Myers, president of Bullpen Research & Consulting, a real estate advisory firm, says higher interest rates are pushing potential homebuyers to the sidelines, putting more strain on the rental market.
"These two factors will keep renters in their properties, further reducing rental supply," Myers said.
Rental supply has also been an ongoing issue in Halifax. There, the vacancy rate is less than one per cent, among the lowest in the country, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
"We have new construction and existing construction, but they cannot keep up with the pace of the number of people who are looking for rental units," said Lesley Dunn, program director for RentersEd, which educates Canadians on renting.
Rental prices rising across Canada
She says households with lower incomes are rapidly being priced out as rents increase faster than people's paycheques rise. Dunn says the rental market is so hot it's putting unfair pressure on applicants.
"Now you're asked to pay three months rent before you will be considered for an apartment. That's devastating," Dunn said.
"For most newcomers, for most youth, for most people who are houseless, for most people who are on a fixed income, there is absolutely no way that they can afford that."
The market is tight for renters in the biggest cities too, as they are the priciest. The highest average apartment rents in Canada are in Vancouver, at $2,936 a month, almost 25 per cent higher than a year ago, according to Rentals.ca. In Toronto, the average for apartments is $2,463 a month, up nearly 20 per cent year over year. Experts have pointed to a decades-long decline in building housing specifically meant for rental, known as purpose-built rentals, as another reason underlying supply issues.
Murtaza Haider, professor of management at Toronto Metropolitan University, says purpose-built rentals provide more rental stability than condominiums, in which landlords who are focused on investment are more likely to take their properties off the rental market to sell whenever they feel the time is right.
"Purpose-built rentals provide the security of tenure because you know that this is a rental property and it will stay as a rental for them for the time being," he said.
'Government has a big role to play'
Haider wants all levels of government need to work together to encourage more construction.
"The government has a big role to play. They can incentivize builders into this market by changing the playing field … in favour of constructing more purpose-built rentals," he said. "The impetus is on us not to wait for another 50 years or even five years and start making those changes."
After 16 long months, Armstrong says he and his wife finally found a place to call home.
"It feels amazing. A kitchen to cook in to help save money on food costs, especially now with the price of everything rising," he said.
He hopes the rental market improves for others just beginning their search.
"It should have never taken over a year to finally get a permanent place to live," he said.
With files from James Dunne, CBC News