The latest look at Metro Vancouver’s rental market by Canada’s federal housing agency provided a grim outlook that’s likely no surprise to tenants across the region.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s new Rental Market Report showed the vacancy rate for purpose-built rentals in Greater Vancouver fell to 0.9 per cent last year, down from 1.2 in 2021 and 2.6 in 2020 at the height of the pandemic.
The figure put the Vancouver vacancy rate far below the national average of 1.9 per cent.
“In terms of rents, in the region, we’ve seen increases across the board — two bedroom market rents in Vancouver are now in the order of $2,850 per month, and that compares with $2,000 per month for units that have been occupied for longer times,” he said.
“That 43 per cent difference is very challenging for anyone whos looking to move, it’s a strong disincentive to moving since if you were looking for an identical unit across the hall or even down the street you would be facing a significant rent increase.”
The report found Toronto had the second most expensive rental market, with a two bedroom averaging at $1,770.
Victoria’s vacancy rate edged upward to 1.5 per cent on an increase in rental stock, but rents were still up about 7.7 per cent, with a two-bedroom averaging at $1,699 — good for third place nationwide.
Kelowna rounded out the top four with an average two-bedroom renting for $1,690.
Vancouver renter and housing advocate Kit Sauder said the report was yet another sign that the region’s housing market is unsustainable.
“They acknowledge right out of the gate that this report is the worst that they’ve ever seen in more than two generations of collecting the information,” he said.
“Rents have spiked and vacancies have cratered despite the fact that over the last three-to-five years we’ve seen onlining of rental supply, purpose built rental and other options.”
He said the numbers also underestimate the real situation because they average out rents across the region and across renters who may have held their unit for years or even decades.
Some renters, he said, are facing listings for sub-par units in the price range of $3,700 for two bedrooms.
“The reality is people cannot afford that. That’s why we are seeing massive migrations of the Canadian population, the breaking up of families, and this is having net impacts across the labour market, on our productivity, and across our overall society.
“How do we fix it? We build more housing. Every single page of this report points to the fact that the census metropolitan areas, the individual towns and cities who have made it easy to build, make it predictable to do business, and make it smooth to get approvals on projects have better rates.”
B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the report showed that housing pressures were not a uniquely B.C. problem, and that national cooperation was needed for long-term solutions.
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However, with three of the five priciest rental markets in B.C. — Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna — he acknowledged the province has a housing crisis.
“If you look back 10 years, we were about 2,000 rental starts a year. We last year were at 13,000, the year before that was 14,000, so we actually have record number of rental units coming online, but we know there’s lots more work to do,” Kahlon said.
“Why it takes four or five years to get these projects permitted and approved to be built, many of them are opening this year, is the fundamental reason why we are in this challenge — we have to find that way to get that critical supply on in communities throughout this province and do it way faster than we are right now.”
Thursday’s report painted an even worse picture for the lowest-income 20 per cent of the region’s residents, finding that just one in 100 units for rent was in their price range.
BC Liberal affordability critic Trevor Halford said the report highlighted broken housing promises on the part of the NDP government.
“We have understood rent has been an issue in Surrey, Vancouver, Prince George — and twice this has been a premier, a government, who has campaigned on a renters rebate and failed to deliver it,” he said.
The province says it is still working on that promised $400 renter’s rebate, a sum that looks smaller by the year amid rising inflation and housing prices.