Some 4.4-million adults and families in Canada live in rental housing, making up just under a third of total households. But being a renter in many areas of the country isn’t easy, data from a new national rental database show.
Four in 10 renter households spend more than 30 per cent of their pre-tax income on rent, beyond the commonly accepted affordability threshold. And for nearly two in 10 of these households, rent takes up over half of pre-tax income, a level of spending at which people are considered to be at high risk of becoming homeless.
The numbers come from the 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index, a database developed by housing advocacy group BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA).
The latest edition of index uses data from Statistics Canada’s 2016 long-form census to measure affordability and overcrowding in 800 cities across the country, as well as every province and territory. And the picture the latest numbers paint of Canada’s rental market has housing advocates worried.
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“Spending more than 30 per cent of income on housing has become the new normal for individuals and families in almost all areas of Canada,” Jill Atkey, acting CEO of BCNPHA said in a statement.
Putting pressure on rent in many parts of the country is rising demand for homes that come with a landlord rather than a mortgage. Experts have attributed this to Canadians moving across provinces, immigrant and refugee inflows, a growing number of seniors opting to rent rather than own a home, and home prices soaring beyond the reach of many middle-class earners.
At the same time, homeownership has been declining, albeit slightly, for the first time in over four decades. The share of homeowners went from 69 per cent in 2011 to 67.8 per cent in 2016, Statistics Canada said in October.
So where are the best and worst places in Canada to be a renter?
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Among the provinces, the share of households who rent is highest in Quebec (39 per cent), B.C. (32 per cent), Nova Scotia (31 per cent), and Ontario (30 per cent). Nationally, though, the record share of renters belongs to Nunavut, where as much as 80 per cent of households rent instead of own.
Canadians are paying around $1,000 a month on rent on average, but the numbers show significant variations across provinces and territories.
Here are the average rental costs, which include both rent and utilities:
- Alberta: $1,279
- Northwest Territories: $1,191
- British Columbia: $1,148
- Ontario: $1,109
- Yukon: $1,040
- Saskatchewan: $1,021
- Nova Scotia: $909
- Manitoba: $891
- Newfoundland: $836
- Prince Edward Island: $817
- Quebec: $776
- New Brunswick: $741
- Nunavut: $737
But high-average rents aren’t necessarily good predictors of where renters are struggling the most. For example, in Alberta higher-than-average incomes help offset the impact of steep rents. British Columbia, on the other hand, which is home to the country’s priciest real estate, has the highest share of of households using more than 50 per cent of their income to pay rent, at 21.3 per cent. Ontario ranks second (20.9 per cent), while Nova Scotia (19.3 per cent) comes in third, the data shows.
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Data at the city and municipal level show a similar picture. Three of the top five municipalities with the highest average rent are in Alberta, but none of those communities appear at the top of the ranking of the municipalities and urban centres with the highest share of renters shelling out over half of their gross income on rent.
Top 5 municipalities with the highest average rent:
● Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray), Alta. – $1,805
● Whistler, B.C. – $1,650
● Rocky View, Alta. – $1,626
● Yellowknife, N.W.T. – $1,613
● Airdrie, Alta. – $1,597
Top 5 urban centres (100,000 people or over) with the highest share spending more than 50 per cent of income on rent:
● Greater Toronto, Ont. (23 per cent)
● Greater Vancouver, B.C. (22 per cent)
● Ottawa, Ont. (20 per cent)
● Montreal, Que. (18 per cent)
● Edmonton, Alta. (17 per cent)
Top 5 municipalities with the highest share spending more than 50 per cent of income on rent:
● West Vancouver, B.C. (37 per cent)
● Richmond Hill, Ont. (32 per cent)
● Vaughan, Ont. (29 per cent)
● Sechelt, B.C. (29 per cent)
● Markham, Ont. (29 per cent)
That index also shows that for many Canadians, wages aren’t keeping up with rent increases. In Ontario, for example, average rent costs rose by 20 per cent over five years, while the average income went up only 12 per cent.
And impossibly high rents aren’t just a problem in large cities. Increasingly, the affordability crisis has been reaching smaller communities on the outskirts of large urban centres.
The data “shows the suburbanization of poverty where major affordability challenges are just as prevalent in the surrounding communities as they are in those urban centres,” said Marlene Coffey, executive director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.
LISTEN: Erica Alini discusses Canada’s highest and lowest rents on the Tasha Kheiriddin show