With rental vacancy between 1% and 3%, Okotoks market squeezed to its limit

·4 min read
Rentals in Okotoks are hard to come by, expensive and dwindling as some landlords decide to sell their homes in a hot market. (CBC - image credit)
Rentals in Okotoks are hard to come by, expensive and dwindling as some landlords decide to sell their homes in a hot market. (CBC - image credit)

With two dogs, Hayleigh Johnson and Nolan Hranac feel they're at a disadvantage looking for a rental home in the Okotoks, Alta. area.

Competition right now is intense — the rental market in Okotoks has always been limited, but with a hot housing market some landlords have decided to sell, making the hunt for an affordable and suitable rental even more difficult.

"It's just a reflection of how competitive it is too, they're allowed to be selective," Johnson said. "I was applying for something that might have been on Rentfaster for less than 24-hours ... they had like hundreds of applicants."

Okotoks isn't dotted with condos and apartment complexes like Calgary. Instead, developers gravitate toward single-family homes.

Now, town officials realize as their population grows they need to make investments to close that gap.

According to the town, only one to three per cent of rentals in Okotoks are available at any given time, and it's been that tight for the past five years.

Kirstin Herrmann created the Okotoks and surrounding area House/Apartment Rentals Facebook page back in 2013. She felt Rentfaster, Kijiji, and Craigslist mainly served Calgarians.

The page was a way for landlords to find tenants, and for years most of the listings posted to the Facebook page were landlords advertising rentals.

But these days most of the group's posts come from renters. And lately, Hermann has seen a new trend: people with 90 days to find a new home, because the owner has sold.

"I would say at least once or twice a week," Herrmann said. "That's a huge increase and that's new. I've just seen that starting this year."

Housing market driving some landlords to sell

CREB Chief Economist Ann-Marie Lurie says home sales in Okotoks have been strong, but supply has not been keeping pace.

"We were drawing down and down and down on our inventory levels which left very little supply in the market," she said.

Which means house prices in the Okotoks area are up, inflated by demand.

"We're talking about a year over year gain of 12 per cent. That can encourage people to list their homes, but they need somewhere to go," Lurie said.

Last year Johnson and Hranac moved from Lethbridge to the area, but after a lengthy search they ended up renting in south Calgary, which is a short commute to work, but not their ideal location.

The couple recently got a 90-day notice to vacate from their landlord. Which, given the rental market, isn't ideal.

"We've expanded our search as well into outside communities like High River, Black Diamond, and Turner Valley, Alderside that sort of thing, I think at one point we considered Nanton, Cayley, it's a bit of a commute," Johnson said.

It's so competitive that when the pair saw some people entertaining the idea of leasing an RV spot for the summer and living out of a camper while the weather is nice, they considered it briefly.

Priced out by high rental prices and little choice

Single mom Camilla Andrews has rented in Okotoks for years, and that's where she'd like to stay. In November 2021 her landlord told her the homeowner planned to move back in. So the search began.

She found a rental in Calgary, but it's not where she wants to live.

In a year, Andrews will try to move back to the community she considers home, but right now, even if she could find somewhere to live with her daughter, she's priced out of the town's rental market.

Town working on building affordable housing stock

"The rent isn't always as affordable as some people need," said Debbie Posey, community wellness manager, Town of Okotoks. She says people come in daily looking for help with rentals.

Posey said a lack of rentals isn't new, but given recent housing market trends, they're seeing a trickle-down effect.

"There's just not enough rental," Posey said. "the town has done quite a bit, I think, in terms of trying to up housing stock. But there's a gap now because things aren't built yet."

The town has tried to get more secondary suites built, with incentives for homeowners, but they can't assure those new rentals are always the most affordable.

Posey said it's taken a while to get here.

"I think there were several things, I think a reluctance for the municipality to get into the business of providing housing for some time with the rapid growth. There was so much to catch up on."

She credits the town's Affordable Housing Task Force for getting things moving. In the last year and a half, the town has gifted some land to organizations willing to create affordable housing. A per-door subsidy for purpose-built rentals is also attracting development, Posey said.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting