Montreal

Montreal saw biggest rent increases in 18 years in 2020, study finds

Rents in Montreal, and the surrounding area, jumped by more than four per cent between 2019 and 2020, the highest annual increase in nearly two decades, according to a new report.

The study also highlights huge differences in rents charged for occupied and unoccupied units

The figures, released by the Observatoire Grand Montreal, provide further evidence of the difficulties facing renters. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Rents in Montreal, and the surrounding area, jumped by more than four per cent between 2019 and 2020, the highest annual increase in nearly two decades, according to a new report.

The study, by the research arm of the greater metropolitan area governing body, found that rents in the City of Montreal increased by an average of 4.6 per cent last year, the highest increase since 2003.

Increases of 3.9 per cent were registered for Longueuil and  2,2 per cent for Laval.

The study also found that the average cost of unoccupied units went from $910 in 2019 to $1,198 in 2020, a 30-per cent increase.

The figures, released by the Observatoire Grand Montreal, provide further evidence of the difficulties currently facing renters in the city.

Municipal politicians and housing advocates have been calling on the provincial government to boost the supply of affordable housing in the city, saying the current shortage of units has reached crisis levels.

Premier François Legault, however, denied recently that the issue merits the term "crisis," though his government has started to spend modest sums to address the shortage.

The study, released last week, detailed some of the impact that the pandemic has had on rents.

Housing activists took to the streets of Montreal's gentrifying Southwest borough on Saturday, calling on the provincial government to do more to address affordability issues. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Many "high-rent" units intended for short-term accommodation — such as tourists, foreign students and temporary workers — have been freed up because of travel restrictions.

As these units came on the long-term rental market, landlords sought higher prices. The study notes a widening gap between rents charged for unoccupied units and occupied ones.

In Montreal, the average monthly rent for an occupied unit is $882. The average monthly rent sought for an unoccupied unit is $1,202, a 36-per cent difference.

In Laval, the gap was even wider. The average monthly rent for occupied units is $897, compared to a monthly average of $1,298 for unoccupied ones.

Modest sums still not enough, advocates say

Meanwhile, affordable housing — units with rents below $925 per month — is increasingly difficult to find. The observatory said the vacancy rate for such units "remains very low in all parts of the Greater Montreal Area."

The study also notes that too few affordable housing units are being added to the Montreal rental market.

Although 46,300 new units were built between 2017 and 2020, only 7.3 per cent of the units were devoted to social housing, according to the study.

Amid mounting pressure to assist low-income renters, the provincial government announced last week that, with Ottawa, it will spend $100 million to repair 500 affordable housing units in Montreal, many of which had become uninhabitable.

On Saturday, housing activists took to the streets of Montreal's gentrifying Southwest borough, saying the provincial government needs to do more given the amplitude of the city's housing problem.

"The time for small measures has passed. We need structural reform," said Véronique Laflamme, a spokesperson for the housing advocacy group FRAPRU.

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