Vancouver’s rental vacancy rates worse than feared: MLA

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Jennifer Gauthier/Metro Vancouver’s skyline seen from Broadway and Cambie in November, 2014.

The rental crisis in Vancouver is even worse than many feared, according to a Vancouver MLA.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s 2014 market rental report, released Tuesday, says parts of Vancouver – specifically the West End and Downtown – have vacancy rates as low as 0.3 per cent, while the city as a whole has a rental vacancy rate of just 0.5 per cent.

In comparison, the vacancy rate for the West End/Downtown in 2013 was 0.9 per cent, and the citywide rate was 1 per cent.

“That’s even worse than I imagined,” said David Eby, MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey.

Both Eby and fellow NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, representing Vancouver-West End, say their ridings have been hit hard by the shortage of rental stock.

It’s a situation that has not just frustrated prospective renters, but also put long-term tenants at risk of losing their homes.

“We’ve seen that in the West End, where landlords have pushed longer-term tenants out knowing there are other renters out there hungry to take the suite at whatever price possible,” said Chandra Herbert. “The incredibly low vacancy rate of 0.3 per cent increases the number of landlords acting badly. They know they can kick people out and make more money.”

The shrinking rates in 2014 have pushed the average rent of a two-bedroom apartment in the West End/Downtown up to $1,849 per month (compared to $1,794 last year) and $1,571 citywide (compared to $1,541 in 2013).

Tom Durning, advocate at the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC), said the city has long had vacancy rates below the “danger” line of three per cent.

He said the number of units available or coming online hasn’t been enough to keep up with a growing population while developers chase higher profit margins in the condominium market.

“There’s all this competition for rental housing [from rents] and nothing is being built,” said Durning. “Anything under three per cent is not a healthy market. Supply is scarce; many landlords have the upper hand. It’s not a balanced housing situation in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.”

Those that can secure rental housing increasingly struggle to make ends meet, according to a recent report released last month from the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.

It reported nearly half of renters living in the region spend more than the recommended affordability cap of 30 per cent of their gross income on rent.

A quarter of renters spend more than 50 per cent of their income on rent.

According to Statistics Canada, 51.5 per cent of Vancouver households rent.

In an attempt to alleviate demand, Mayor Gregor Robertson has promised to build 1,000 rental units per year for the next four years.

But with rents as high as $1,400 for a studio, it’s not a plan without its critics.

On Tuesday, the city council approved a series of citizen advisory committees, including a Renters Advisory Committee, which the city says will give renters a “direct voice at City Hall.”

Eby has also warned of increased pressure from the provincial government.

Earlier this month, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said his government is considering a proposal to relax rent control rules, as current limits and rising operational costs “discourage” growth in rental supply.

However, Eby argues all the reform would do is make rents more unaffordable for vulnerable tenants, such as seniors on fixed incomes.

-with files from Emily Jackson and Stefania Seccia