Ottawa

Ontario's rising rents hurt the poor, Ottawa advocates say

Advocates for retirees and people living in poverty in Ottawa are calling on the province to rethink raising rents in Ontario.

Province raises cap on rent increase to 2.2% for 2020, highest hike since 2013

Ontario raised the cap on the amount landlords can increase rent in 2020 to 2.2 per cent, up from 1.8 per cent in the two previous years. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

Advocates for retirees and people living in poverty in Ottawa are calling on the province to rethink raising rents in Ontario.

Landlords can increase leases by 2.2 per cent this year. It's the largest increase in provincial rental guidelines in more than six years.

"A lot of seniors are on fixed incomes and really find it difficult when they have to face rent increases every year," said Rick Baker, president of Canadian Association of Retired Persons Ottawa.

"What is happening is it's pushing more people out in the streets."

Norma-Jean Quibell, an advocate with the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, is calling for a freeze on rents until minimum wages go up. 

Norma-Jean Quibell, who lives in a four-bedroom rental unit with her family, says it would be impossible to find a similar-sized unit for the same price in today's rental market.  1:00

Ontario froze the minimum wage at 14 dollars per hour two years ago, the same year it jumped up from $11.60 an hour.

"One of the biggest problems that is going on in Canada and in the western world in general is inflation with things like rents, food, gas, transportation in general but minimum wages and incomes aren't going up to match that," Quibell said.

"ACORN would like to see a rent freeze for that reason because if you're not going to raise people's income, why are you raising their rent?"

Dakota Brasier, a spokesperson for Ontario's Housing Minister Steve Clark, said the Progressive Conservatives are not responsible for setting rents. Rent guidelines are calculated based on the Ontario Consumer Price Index.

"Our government remains committed to ensuring the continued protection of tenants, including from unlawful evictions and keeping buildings well maintained," wrote Brasier in an email to CBC.

"It is important to note that landlords are not required to raise rents every 12 months, and if they choose to increase rent it can be lower than the guideline."

Ottawa feeling a rental crunch

Rents in Ottawa have been steadily rising in recent years and at a much higher rate than the province's rent control guideline.

Data from the private rental website, Rentals.ca in collaboration with Bullpen Consulting, found rents of condos and apartments rose about nine per cent over the course of 2019.

"It's been a tough year for anyone looking for a rental in Ottawa last year," said Matt Danison, the CEO of Rentals.ca, an online rental advertisement company based in Ottawa and Toronto.

Many landlords are renovating older housing stock and increasing rents on properties that were once more affordable, he said. They're having no trouble filling them because of high demand.

According to the last rental market report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation released in 2018, the overall vacancy rate in the city is 1.6 per cent. Typically a healthy target rate is three per cent.

"Ottawa is one of the fastest growing real estate markets in Canada right now," Danison said.

Developers also facing rising costs

But property owners are grappling with rising costs of their own, developer Peter Deeb told CBC Radio's All in a Day Friday.

"We've obviously seen a big jump in hydro costs. Property taxes have risen and [so have] our maintenance and repair costs," Deeb explained.

Maintenance costs have climbed, Deeb said, because landlords are now competing with larger condo developers to hire workers.

Those developers can pay higher wages, meaning smaller landlords are also forced to pay more for repairs.

Ottawa housing advocates say Ontario's rising rents hurt the poor, but how do you maintain a building you can't even afford to fix? We talked with landlords who are weighing the costs of rentals. 8:22

These increases and dwindling profit margins have led to Deeb selling some of his properties.

"Unfortunately what that's done is it's driven all of the developers into the condo space to build expensive condos...and it's diminished the rental pool for more affordable housing," Deeb said. 

Bigger families out of luck, Quibell says 

Norma-Jean Quibell is the co-chair of the Britannia ward chapter of the anti-poverty group ACORN or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

Quibell herself wonders whether she could afford to find a home in Ottawa if she and her family of five had to move.

The 35-year-old Quibell currently pays about $1,500 a month for a four-bedroom garden home in Accora Village, a rental complex in Britannia. The house comes with a dishwasher, laundry, central air and a parking spot.

Her family makes ends meet with two minimum wage incomes and 45 per cent of their earnings going to pay rent, she said.

Looking on Kijiji one day in late December, many of the housing options were too far from downtown to be feasible for her family and most costed in excess of $2,000 a month.

"A largish family could not afford these rents if they're low income," she said looking at the online ads.

"That's the kind of housing crisis that we are currently in."

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Radio's All in a Day