There are more apartments available in Montreal, but they're also getting more expensive

The pandemic has created a surge of available apartments in and around Montreal, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's gotten easier for people to find a place to live.

Decrease in number of immigrants and international students leads to supply surge, according to CMHC report

The pandemic has created a surge of available rental units, but that hasn't led to a drop in prices. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

COVID-19 has disrupted many sectors of the economy, and the rental market in Montreal was not spared, as the pandemic has helped create a surge in available apartment units.

The latest report from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation shows the vacancy rate in the Montreal area shot up to 2.7 per cent in 2020, a year after it hit a 15-year-low with only 1.5 per cent of the city's supply being available.

That trend is even more pronounced on the island, with the vacancy rate rising to 3.2 per cent, which was the double the rate from the previous year.

Francis Cortellino, a senior economist with the CMHC, said the change is especially pronounced in the central part of Montreal and, in particular, in mid-sized and high-rise buildings.

"With less international students coming in, less temporary workers from abroad, less immigrants, you can see that impact on the rental demand," he said.

The increase is mirrored across several major cities in the country, but Montrealers hoping the increase in supply leads to a drop in the prices for rental units will be disappointed. The average rent went up to $891 — 4.2 percent higher compared to 2019. 

According to the CMHC, the price hike is explained by how strong rental growth was during the pandemic, and it suggests that landlords may be less willing to offer lower rents, even if it means holding onto vacant units.

"That's a huge increase, way more than inflation and way more than what the tribunal is suggesting to landlords," said Maxime Roy-Allard, a spokesperson with Quebec's coalition of housing committees.

Roy-Allard is worried that once the economy rebounds, and people come back to live in the city centre, low-income tenants will find it even more difficult to find housing.

Affordable housing still a problem

Saray Ortiz Torres, a community organizer with Project Genesis, said the Quebec government needs to put in place measures — including a freeze on rent increases — to ensure housing is affordable in neighbourhoods like Côte-des-Neiges.

She pointed out the vacancy rate for more affordable apartments is still low. For apartments between $625 and $899 a month, for instance, the rate is 1.4 per cent, according to the report.

"Vacancy rates were higher for apartments with high rents, which were only affordable for renter households with higher incomes," the report said.  

"As a result, the availability of affordable housing in Greater Montréal remains a topical issue, despite the sustained construction of apartments in the metropolitan area in recent years."

Torrez said the province needs to devote more money to social housing to avoid low-income tenants being pushed out of their neighbourhoods.

With files from Elias Abboud, CBC Montreal's Daybreak and The Canadian Press