Survival 'the only concern' as Canadian tenants struggle to pay rent
Kassandra Johnson says she used to be proud to call St. Catharines, Ont., home, but as rent prices rise, she says she now struggles to afford to live in the city.
“Most weeks I have to decide between feeding my kids, putting gas in my vehicle to get them to school, or paying rent,” Johnson wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Thursday.
CTVNews.ca heard from a number of Canadians struggling to afford their homes. The surge in rent prices over the last few months has forced many to cut back, with some having to relocate or move in with their parents.
Johnson, a single mother of two young children, said she currently rents a small three-bedroom apartment for $1,650 per month, excluding utility bills, while working two jobs and attending university full-time. Savings she had set aside in the hopes of one day purchasing a home have now diminished, she said, and she scrambles to make ends meet.
“Before the huge housing increase, I was on track and saving to buy my first home,” Johnson wrote. “Now at almost 30, I’ve used all my savings and fear I’ll never own a home.
“This [rental] market has put me in one of the worst financial positions [of] my entire life.”
St. Catharines, Ont., is one of a number of cities that have seen a surge in average rent prices over the last few months. According to the latest National Rent Report published by Rentals.ca and Bullpen Research and Consulting, the average rent price for all Canadian property types listed on the website was $1,934 in July. That’s an increase of 2.6 per cent compared to June, with prices rising due to high demand in the rental market, the report says.
Toni King, another Canadian who responded to CTVNews.ca, is among those who’ve had to move cities as a result of rising prices.
Over the last two years, King said she had been renting a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Sylvan Lake, Alta., for about $1,250 per month. Although she received an offer to renew her lease for September, King would be expected to pay about $1,480 per month instead, she said.
“As I am a single-income family, I could barely afford the $1,248, let alone an increase,” King wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday.
As a result, King was forced to relocate, and now lives on the main floor of a house located in Lacombe, Alta. Despite being just a 30-minute drive away from where she used to live, King said she had to pay nearly $1,000 in moving expenses alone. She now pays $1,350 per month in rent, including utilities.
“It has been a super stressful three months and has cost me a lot of money in the interim,” King wrote.
Crystal Gibson, another renter, said she was also forced out of her home due to rising prices. For nearly four years, she had been renting a three-bedroom semi-detached home in Kingston, Ont., for about $1,400 per month. Her landlord, however, recently sold the home, leaving Gibson unable to find a similar property for the same price, she said.
“Basically, a one-bedroom [unit] is now $1,400 and a three-bedroom [unit] is $2,500+, and that’s on the lower end!” Gibson wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.
Gibson and her family, which includes her five-year-old son, have moved in with her parents for the time being. While she continues to look for a suitable rental home, finding one within her budget has been difficult, she said, especially with competition from numerous applicants.
“[I] have never experienced the difficulties I have had with rentals and prices more than I have in the past two years,” she wrote. “I can’t continue to live with my parents, but I also can’t find a rental, I feel doomed!”
‘THAT DREAM IS GONE’
A recent survey conducted by insurance firm Canada Life revealed that nearly half of Canadians who rent said they expect to continue to do so indefinitely. Some of the key reasons behind this were a lack of cash and uncertainty about the future, with high inflation continuing to impact Canadians’ disposal income.
Jeff Sinasac said he and his wife had been living in an apartment in downtown Toronto for 25 years before the complex sold in 2020 and they were forced to leave. Both had been saving money for a down payment on a house at the time, “hoping to finally escape the rental trap,” he said.
They have since been able to find a new home, but are paying nearly double in rent, Sinasac said.
“We are no longer saving toward a house. That dream is gone,” he wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday. “Survival is the only concern.”
This is also the case for Corinne Niddrie, based in downtown Vancouver. Niddrie currently lives in a studio apartment that is less than 37 square metres, paying $1,725 per month.
“I hold a professional job for a reputable company as an analyst [and] still find it hard to manage paying that kind of rent, plus bills and groceries … let alone trying to save any money,” she wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.
According to the latest data compiled by Rentals.ca, the average rental price of a one-bedroom unit in Vancouver was $2,500 in July. The average price to rent a two-bedroom unit in the city during the same month was $3,630. Both Vancouver and Toronto have some of the highest rental prices for one and two-bedroom apartments across the country, based on the data.
“Living in the city is a struggle,” Niddrie said.
Those living further north are struggling to make ends meet as well. Riley Coppicus lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, where he said residents have not been immune to rising rental prices in the last few months.
According to a rent survey conducted by the Yukon Bureau of Statistics in October 2021, rental units in all types of buildings in the city had a median price of $1,233 per month. A separate report released by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in the same year calculated the average rent price for a two-bedroom apartment in Whitehorse to be $1,296.
Now, Coppicus said most two-bedroom units in the city are priced at about $2,000, excluding utilities. These prices make it challenging to save money, he said.
“Every small emergency like … a car window cracking in the cold and needing replacing eats up the small savings we have instantly, and it’s back to square one,” he wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.
At this rate, Coppicus said he and his family will have to wait years before being able to save up enough money for a down payment on a home. Based on the report from CMHC, housing affordability remains an issue in Whitehorse, where “market options are out of reach for some households without financial assistance.”
Amid concerns around affordability across the country, experts say it’s unlikely Canadians will see a significant decline in rent prices within the next few months. With Canada’s inflation rate remaining high, landlords are likely to continue turning to their tenants in order to cover extra costs, said Moshe Lander, an economics professor at Concordia University.
“All of us are experiencing inflation – landlords are not immune to that,” Lander told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview on June 15. “Where I might go to [my] employer and say, ‘You need to give me a bigger raise to keep up with [inflation], landlords are … going to the tenants and saying, ‘I'm increasing your rent.’”
Paul Danison, content director of Rentals.ca, said he eventually expects to see the rate of these rent increases to slow down. Ideally, Canadians will see the rental market turn around in 2023, he said.
With files from The Canadian Press and Michael Lee.