British Columbia

Vancouver's housing market cools, but rental market stays the same

A spokesperson for the CMHC said it "remains confident" in its 2019 forecast, which would keep Metro Vancouver with the lowest vacancy rates and highest rents among Canada's 10 largest metropolitan areas. 

Region still expected to have the highest rents and lowest vacancy rates of any big Canadian city

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is forecasting a 1.1 per cent vacancy rate for Vancouver when it publishes its annual nationwide rental report next month. (David Horemans/CBC)

In 2019, Metro Vancouver's home ownership market saw a significant slowdown for the first time in years, and with it, decreases in property values of 15 per cent in some cases.

But it's a different story in the rental market. 

"It's a combination of issues that need to get fixed — not just in Vancouver but a lot of other [surrounding] municipalities," said David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC.

Next week, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) will be releasing its annual rental report for all major Canadian cities. In October, it forecasted a vacancy rate of 1.1 per cent for Metro Vancouver (up from 1.0 per cent in 2018) and a two-bedroom average rent of $1,715 (up from $1,649 in 2018). 

A spokesperson for CMHC said it "remains confident" in that forecast, which would keep Metro Vancouver with the lowest vacancy rates and highest rents among Canada's 10 largest metropolitan areas. 

New councils, new direction

To Hutniak, the problems facing the rental market come from a wide variety of sources — including increased insurance costs and new energy regulations in buildings — but are mostly due to a lack of available rental units. 

"I think the big elephant in the room here is, if we don't start really building a ton to start addressing the low vacancy rates, it is going to get worse before it gets better, and that's unnecessary and very unfortunate," he said. 

While the provincial government has encouraged municipalities to approve more housing, several new mayors and councillors have gone in a different direction, pushing for more consultation and less dense developments — and projects that are being approved will take years to have an impact. 

"Last election was definitely a sea change," said Hutniak.

"The rental housing crisis doesn't stop for [newly elected] officials. The fact of the matter is that we really don't have the luxury of waiting to deal with the supply issue."

Supply isn't everything

Not everyone believes that adding more supply will create more affordable rentals. 

"If it's not the right kind of supply, then it's not going to help the people that need it most," said Sydney Ball, a member of the Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) steering committee. 

The organization says local governments should spend less time approving market rentals, and more time changing vacancy laws and lobbying higher levels of government for the funding required to build more social and co-op housing. 

"We're never gonna get our way out of it by just making tax breaks for developers to throw 10 or 20 affordable units. That's not the way forward," she argued.

"We've been doing it for a very long time, and the housing crisis is getting worse."

Little optimism for 2020

Local governments continue to move forward on official community plans and housing task forces — and on Wednesday, Metro Vancouver's housing committee will meet for the first time this year and get a progress report on a new plan to increase the regional government's supply of affordable housing

But while the VTU and Landlord BC disagree on the solution to Vancouver's rental crisis, neither are particularly optimistic for significant changes to the rental paradigm in 2020. 

"We're kind of seeing posturing from [Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart] that we have the best kind of rental protections. But if you speak to anybody on the ground, we all know that's not true," said Ball, citing New Westminster and Burnaby as municipalities that have enacted stronger protections for renters. 

And while Ball isn't optimistic city council will change course, Hutniak doesn't think a sizeable increase in supply is coming either. 

"I wish I could be more optimistic," he said, "but I think this is going to be a very, very challenging year." 


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