Would you pay $800 a month to live in a closet? In Vancouver, that may be all you can afford

According to Rentals.ca, an average one-bedroom home in the City of Vancouver now rents for $2,787 a month.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
According to Rentals.ca, an average one-bedroom home in the City of Vancouver now rents for $2,787 a month. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Two-bedroom basement suites going for $3,000 a month, a single bed in a room listed for $1,000 a month, and windowless closets renting for $800.

Expensive rent in Metro Vancouver is nothing new, but renters searching for a home in the region say the listings they're coming across have reached a whole new level of absurdity.

"It's out of control," said Laura Herbert, 48, who is trying to find an affordable home for her adult son, who has a brain injury and lives off $1,400 a month in disability payments.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Herbert says the most egregious listings she has seen include beds in a living room, separated by curtains, or multiple beds in a single bedroom with no partition at all.

"We're definitely in a housing crisis," she said. "We're going to see more and more young people and families who are living in their vehicles."

CBC News heard from several renters in Metro Vancouver with similar findings.

One posting on Facebook Marketplace, listed in downtown Vancouver for $800 per month, showed a single bed in a narrow, windowless room in an apartment shared with three other roommates.

Another posting on Zillow showed a 500-square-foot apartment in North Vancouver listed for $2,700 a month.

'A very, very hard place to be'

The data supports Herbert's findings.

The latest numbers from Rentals.ca, a service that lists rentals across the country and provides monthly reports that examine the cost of those units, show the average price of a one-bedroom in the City of Vancouver at $2,787 per month — the most expensive in the country.

Paul Danison, the content director for Rentals.ca, says the prices have been climbing for years and show no signs of abating.

"Vancouver is just a very, very hard place to be if you're in the rental market right now," he said.

Other Metro Vancouver cities aren't looking much better, Danison says. Burnaby has shot up Rentals.ca's list with one-bedrooms now averaging $2,330. In Surrey, they average $1,930.

'We need all hands on deck'

Renters, landlords and researchers agree that the root cause of the issue is a lack of new housing for renters.

Penny Gurstein, co-director of the University of British Columbia's Housing Research Collaborative, says a "shocking lack of direction" from the government has led to a lack of purpose-built rental housing.

"It really is at a crisis level," Gurstein said. "We need all hands on deck around this."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The federal government did introduce policies to encourage developers to build more rental housing, Gurstein says, but they haven't gotten as much uptake as they had hoped.

The latest report from Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a Crown corporation responsible for administering the National Housing Act, says in 2022, there was a record increase in the supply of purpose-built rentals, with 3,805 units added in Metro Vancouver last year.

But the report says demand far outstrips that supply, namely from increases in immigration, including international students who are more likely to rent.

The other factor CMHC includes is high-interest rates making mortgage rates even more unaffordable and keeping people from moving toward home ownership.

B.C. has announced a number of recent initiatives to tackle the housing crunch, but even if they're effective, it will take time.

Under its B.C. Builds program, the province has announced plans to use public land to deliver up to 10,000 homes over the next 10 to 15 years, with a focus on locations near major public transit hubs.

In April, it announced it had entered into an agreement with Metro Vancouver to build 2,000 affordable homes over the next 10 years. The first phase of the plan calls for the creation of 660 new homes at five sites in Vancouver, Burnaby, Pitt Meadows and Coquitlam.

Landlords not to blame: CEO

David Hutniak, the CEO of Landlord B.C., says it's easy to blame landlords for high rental prices, but the reality is that many of them are facing their own financial difficulties.

Hutniak points out that the turnover of rental units in Vancouver is currently at 4.9 percent, meaning 95 per cent of renters are paying rent controlled by the province's limitations on rate increases.

Meanwhile, landlords have had to deal with higher interest rates, inflation and economic impacts from the pandemic.

"Rental housing providers are faced with the harsh reality that their costs to provide that housing are increasingly out of control," he said.

Hutniak agrees that more rental housing supply needs to be created. While Metro Vancouver may have added 3,800 new purpose-built rental units, he says that same year 27,000 people in the prime rental demographic of 20-34 years old moved into the region.

"Where are all these folks going to live?"