Calgarians feel financial squeeze, anxiety amid 'virtually impossible' rental market

·3 min read
Rebecca Martin says she is struggling to find an affordable place to rent.  (Mark Matulis/CBC - image credit)
Rebecca Martin says she is struggling to find an affordable place to rent. (Mark Matulis/CBC - image credit)

Even though she's called more than 30 places a month, one Calgary woman is struggling to find an affordable place to rent.

"The experience is that as a single parent … it's virtually impossible to find something, especially within my price range," said Rebecca Martin, who has called dozens of places a month since August.

Martin says even though she owns two businesses, has great credit and references, she's still struggling to find a place for her and her daughter.

"Unless you're capable of purchasing a place, the rental market, especially for pet-friendly housing, has just shrunk incredibly," she said, adding that the task of finding a new place has caused a lot of anxiety for her.

Martin is not alone. The city has an average vacancy rate of just one per cent for all property types, while there's been a nearly 29 per cent increase in rental prices since the beginning of 2022, according to Hope Street Management.

Shamon Kureshi, president and CEO of Hope Street Management, says he has worked in the rental business for 43 years and he's never seen vacancies this low.

"Properties are renting faster than I've ever seen them rent before. Rents are up and the vacancy rates are down. There's definitely a lot of very nervous tenants out there," he said.

For example, he says, one house in the city's northwest could have rented for $2,000 per month a year ago. That house is now being rented for $3,400 to someone who snatched it up within 12 hours, didn't even go see the property and is still living overseas.

Detached homes with up to three bedrooms are among the hardest to lock down, staying on the market for just four days, on average, he said.

Mark Matulis/CBC
Mark Matulis/CBC

"The landlords know that there is definitely a crunch and a borderline rental crisis going on right now. If maybe there's a shortage of hamburgers, well, then we can just eat hot dogs, and it's a minor inconvenience, but it's OK and nobody is really too upset," he said.

"But when there's a shortage of rental housing, people die and nobody wants that. No landlord, no tenant, no advocacy group, no one."

'Perfect storm' 

"It's a perfect storm in the sense that there's a lot of little micro-factors that are all working together at the same time. And there doesn't really seem like there's any one factor that sort of jumps out," Kureshi said.

One of those factors is Alberta's booming real estate sales market, he said. There are many landlords who own a house and have seen that they can sell their property quickly, and make a large profit.

"The problem is, in a lot of cases, that removes the property from the rental pool," he said.

Gerry Baxter, executive director of the Calgary Residential Rental Association, also says the low vacancy rate and high rent prices come down to several factors.

Mark Matulis/CBC
Mark Matulis/CBC

"A lot of people left during COVID and the recession. People are starting to come back now. We've got new industries coming into Calgary, the tech industries, which is drawing in a lot of people as well. So all these folks have to have somewhere to live," he said.

Over the last eight years, rental rates have been relatively flat, he said, while costs for landlords have increased — including utility charges and property taxes.

"Now we're seeing as a result of supply chain shortages, we're seeing now that some of the service companies, that the trades that landlords typically use are charging more now for their services, and parts are becoming more expensive," he said.

All those costs are being handed down to renters.

"It's not unlike any other business. When your costs go up, you can only absorb so much of that before you have to pass it on. And in the case of the rental industry, when it gets passed on, it gets passed on to tenants in the form of rent increases."

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