Families in shelters want a place of their own. Calgary's rental market makes that tough to do

Inn from the Cold and the Children's Cottage Society say families are staying longer in shelter as they search for rentals they can afford.

Inn from the Cold, Children's Cottage Society say families are struggling to find affordable places to stay

The exterior of Inn from the Cold in downtown Calgary. The shelter says calls for support have nearly doubled in the first half of the year. (Submitted by Emma MacIsaac)

An emergency family shelter in Calgary says demand is going up and families are staying longer, as they search for an affordable place to stay amid the city's tightening rental market. 

Inn from the Cold says calls for support have nearly doubled in the first half of the year, relative to the same period in 2021. Between January and June, the organization received about 147 calls per month — up from about 76 per month the year prior.

The shelter is often close to full capacity, and families are staying an average of 10 days longer than they used to, said Nathaniel Miller, the organization's director of programs.

"Currently, we are seeing more situations of families that were previously quite stable and just can't afford rent anymore," said Miller. 

Miller said families are often stretching their budgets and just making ends meet. The delicate balance falls apart when they learn their rent is set to increase. 

"As soon as that rent goes up, there's just [nothing] else to give," he said. 

Nathaniel Miller is the director of programs at Inn from the Cold. (Submitted by Emma MacIsaac)

According to, the average rent for condominium and rental apartments in Calgary went up 26.1 per cent in the past year, from $1,389 in June 2021 to $1,752 in June 2022. 

"The market's quite hot," said Michael Mak, a senior analyst with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). 

While the CMHC hasn't yet released its 2022 rental market report, Mak said it appears prices are on the rise and supply is particularly tight for rentals with three bedrooms or more. 

"Most of the housing supply in the rental market is one and two beds."

Can't compete with 6 months rent, offered up front

Brenda's House is a shelter that accommodates 14 families at a time. (Submitted by Lisa Garrisen)

The state of the rental market has also translated into longer stays at Brenda's House, a family shelter run by the Children's Cottage Society. 

Interim CEO Lisa Garrisen said families typically stay about a month at the shelter before moving out on their own. These days, the average length of stay is about 53 days. 

She's heard from families who've returned disappointed from an apartment viewing, having lost out because they didn't have a damage deposit in hand. 

"We're even hearing stories about renters showing up and being willing to pay six months in advance to get a rental unit, and, of course, our families just don't have the resources for that," said Garrisen. 

"They're getting turned away, which is resulting in much longer stays at the shelter."

Housing wait list grows

Both Miller and Garrisen say the situation points to a need for more affordable housing in Calgary.

The wait list at the Calgary Housing Company, which provides non-market housing to people who can't afford market rents, is sitting around 6,000 households. 

The waiting list has grown roughly 30 per cent since 2020, when there were 4,481 households waiting. In 2013, the wait list had 3,345 households.


Paula Duhatschek


Paula Duhatschek is a reporter with CBC Calgary who previously worked for CBC News in Kitchener and in London, Ont. You can reach her at