November 28, 2016 6:29 pm
Updated: November 29, 2016 6:07 am

Calgary vacancy rate hits 7%, ends discrimination for some tenants

WATCH ABOVE: Calgary hasn’t seen vacancy rates this high for 25 years. While the abundance of rental units isn’t good for landlords, it’s fantastic news for low-income families trying to get into a home. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports.

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The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) released its fall rental survey Monday, painting a grim picture for landlords in Calgary.

CMHC conducts one survey of investor-owned condo apartments and another of “purpose-built” rental stock (apartments and highrises usually owned and managed by large companies and REITs), but it doesn’t look at other forms of rental properties, such as basement suites and single-family homes.

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READ MORE: ‘It’s a great time to be a student’ – higher vacancy rates, lower rents benefit Calgary students

In the privately initiated purpose-built rental market, the average apartment vacancy rate in Canada’s 34 larger centres increased slightly to 3.4 per cent in October 2016 from 3.3 per cent in October 2015, according to survey.

But in some Western cities, like Calgary and Saskatoon, the shift was far bigger.

“Rental vacancy rates in both Calgary and Saskatoon have reached a record level this year,” said Goodson Mwale, a senior market analyst with CHMC. “In Calgary we’re seeing one of the highest levels in over 25 years at seven per cent. In Saskatoon, rates have risen to their highest level on record at over 10 per cent.”

The average overall rent in Calgary is now $1,143 per month, which is down 7.6 per cent. The average rent for a bachelor apartment is $858, a one-bedroom is $1,050 and a two-bedroom is at $1,258.

Compare those numbers with October 2014, when Calgary’s purpose-built vacancy rate reported by CMHC was 1.4 per cent.

READ MORE: Calgary tenants in the middle of a renters’ goldmine

That brings back stressful memories for Melanie Crazy Bull. The Calgary mother of two was turned down many times as she looked for an affordable place to rent.

“Some of the negative reactions would be, straightaway, look at the children and look at your family that you’re bringing and you would think that a person would be accepting,” she said. “Like, ‘oh there is this mother with these children,’ but it wasn’t always that way.

“Some of it was very negative, it was like, ‘oh how are they at night? Are they loud? Do they scream? Sorry we don’t except children.’ It was hard because it makes you feel as a parent, what’s wrong with my kids?”

For agencies like Inn from the Cold, the low-vacancy aspect of the economic downturn has been a blessing in disguise. Two years ago, the average length of stay for a family was around 46 days. As of November 2016, it’s just 27 days at the shelter until a home is found.

“That has been huge for us,” said Janeen Webb, director of donor relations with Inn from the Cold.

Not only are there more rental units available at cheaper rates, but clients from shelters report facing less discrimination as desperate landlords take them in.

“Our indigenous guests have absolutely reported discrimination and that also applies to our immigrant, new Canadian families, who have reported back that there were many times they went off to see unit and upon arrival, they were told those units weren’t available,” Webb said.

“It’s hard to believe in a city like ours that it is prevalent and it is a much-needed turnaround that our families have equal access to sustainable, dignified and affordable housing.”

Those who work with low-income families in Calgary just hope landlords continue to give struggling families a foot in the door once vacancy rates come back down again.

“The families just need a little bit of a hand up and hopefully once they’ve made that place their home, people will see that the discriminatory practices and the challenges the family has met along the way are over,” Webb said.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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