Hamilton family struggling to find a place to live in city's unaffordable rental market

This Hamilton family is struggling to find a place to rent because they say landlords aren't confident they can afford a unit — but the family makes too much money to qualify for subsidized units, pitting them in a race against time to find a home.

Landlords say they don't make enough money, but they earn too much to apply for subsidized housing

David and Heather Bolduc used to pay $1,112 per month for a three-bedroom home. Now they're going to have to spend roughly $1,000 more each month for similar accommodations — if they're able to find a unit. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Everything seems to be getting more expensive. Food, gas and housing prices are on the rise while paycheques are slow to keep pace. 

The CBC News series Priced Out explains why you're paying more at the register and how Canadians are coping with the high cost of everything.

Heather and David Bolduc are in a race against time.

They spent eight years paying $1,112 per month for a three-bedroom unit in Hamilton's east end. Now they have to move out, and in Hamilton's increasingly expensive housing market, there's nowhere for them to go. 

Their landlord has sold the house they've been living in at the end of February. As they search for a new place, they say, potential future landlords think they don't make enough money, but they make too much money to apply for subsidized housing.

They have until the end of April to find a new place. They say they've been searching for a month with no luck.

"I'm getting to a point where I'm afraid my family is going to end up on the street," said David.

The rise in rent costs is part of a trend that is seeing Hamilton become more unaffordable. A recent report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) says new tenants are paying much more than those who already pay rent in the city. It also says units on the market are becoming more unaffordable to mid-income renters.

The price the Bolducs have been paying is a steal. Dayna Sparkes, chair of ACORN's east Hamilton chapter, said the average cost of a three-bedroom unit in Hamilton is now $2,200. 

David is 53 and works at a landscaping company. Heather is 42 and works at a Metro grocery store. They have a 16-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

Landlords won't accept family

The Bolducs know they have enough money to afford the rent hike. The problem is trying to convince landlords.

The couple say, for example, that they found a place in the Crown Point West neighborhood for $2,200 per month. David said he could have even afforded it on his own, but the landlord still turned away the family.

"It's just impossible because everywhere you look, someone else that has more money is getting the place. It's frustrating," David said.

"I've been missing shifts at work trying to look at properties and every time I miss a shift, I'm missing $200 plus a day."

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The Bolducs say their credit score is OK, but acknowledge the pandemic has made their financial situation unpredictable. 

Heather said her hours were cut in half during the pandemic and she got another job after her employment insurance benefits ran out. She said her husband was laid off for a few weeks in January 2021 but has been working full time with no breaks ever since.

Rent 'unaffordable' for a lot of mid-income renters

The CHMC report says prospective tenants paid "significantly more" than current tenants in Hamilton.

"Asking rent on vacant units was far more expensive than the rent paid by current tenants, due primarily to scarce options and a rent freeze on most occupied units," the report says.

It also says most vacant units were "unaffordable" to mid-income renters in the city.

"Only one of every seven vacant units in the primary rental market were estimated to be affordable to renters at the 40th income percentile. These renters were estimated to have an income of $42,000 and could afford monthly rent up to $1,049, which is 30 per cent of their monthly income," the report said.

"Low-income renters at the 20th income percentile, or $25,000, continued to have relatively no vacant units that were affordable."

CMHC said the Bolducs may want to check with their provincial or territorial rental authority to find out if there are any tenant advocacy agencies near them to help.

Housing system is failing families: ACORN

Sparkes says the housing system is failing the Bolducs.

"It happens more often than I think people realize," she said.

"They deserve to have safe, affordable housing and they shouldn't have been put into this position where they can't get housing because of their income … we don't want to see more people on the street."

David and Heather Bolduc say they can afford the new price of rent, but landlords don't have the confidence to bring them on as tenants. They also make too much money to be eligible for subsidized housing. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

She says a change in ownership isn't enough to warrant tenants having to move — they are only forced to do so if the new owners of the home are moving in.

She says tenants need more protections from all levels of government and more affordable housing for families.

Still looking for a home

City spokesperson Aisling Higgins said in an email tenants can contact Hamilton Housing Help, which can offer supports to find and keep housing or suggest other options. She also recommended the Good Shepherd Staying Home program or the Housing Stability Benefit for those who are eligible.

"Finally, households experiencing affordability challenges are also encouraged to file their taxes and ensure that they are receiving all available benefits through the tax system," she said.

The city also says Indigenous families can contact the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre for support.

The Bolducs say there should be housing for families stuck in their position.

On Wednesday, Heather said she was waiting to hear back from another landlord.

For now, they're still playing a waiting game.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.


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