Vancouver keeps crown as Canadian metropolis with highest rents and lowest vacancies

When it comes to rental housing, Vancouver is still number one — at least when it comes to prices.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation annual rental report was issued Wednesday morning, showing the region continues to have the highest rents and lowest vacancies of any Canadian metropolis with at least 500,000 people. 

The vacancy rate for apartments intended for rental in Metro Vancouver rose from 1.0 per cent to 1.1 in 2019, while the average rent for two-bedroom units increased from $1,649 to $1,748 — a six per cent increase from the previous year. 

That's even with more supply. The number of condominium apartments in long-term rental increased by an additional 11,118 units — an 18.9 per cent across the region — which a CMHC spokesperson attributed to investor-owners increasing their involvement in the long-term rental market.

The greater Victoria area had the overall lowest vacancy rate in Canada, while the next most expensive two-bedroom apartments were found in Toronto ($1,562) and Calgary ($1,305).

Vacancy rates for a bachelor unit in Metro Vancouver were 0.7 per cent, 1.0 per cent for a one bedroom rental, 1.5 per cent for a two bedroom unit and 1.0 per cent for anything with three or more rooms. 

Why didn't things improve?

Vancouver's rental situation remained relatively static in spite of housing prices dipping across the region, and assessed values decreasing by as much as 15 per cent in the last year. 

But CMHC analyst Eric Bond said upward pressure on rents remained, in part because the price of buying a home or condo remained out of reach for so many. 

"We have this situation where entry-level home prices remain high relative to local incomes," he said.

"And so that means many potential homebuyers that face financial barriers to entry into homeownership choose to rent for a longer term, which then contributes to that [rental] demand."

Bond added that while there were some regional changes in Metro Vancouver's rental market — vacancy rates rising in Vancouver and Surrey, but declining in Burnaby and New Westminster — it was still tight across the board.

"There is very strong demand for rental apartment, and that's been supported by population growth, employment growth and continued barriers to entry into homeownership." 

David Horemans/CBC

Stewart to other cities: 'pick it up a little bit'

"We've got to build more rental housing. That's all we have to do," said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, a point he has repeated since being elected in 2018. 

Stewart argued it wasn't a given that the region would continue to be the worst in Canada for rental prices, but said it was incumbent on some of Metro Vancouver's 20 other municipalities to approve more new rental buildings. 

"We have about 25 percent of the population, but we're providing 40 percent of the rental housing. So I would hope that other municipalities would kind of pick it up a little bit," he said. 

But not every municipality takes the same philosophy as Stewart.

"There's different attitudes across the region toward housing," said North Vancouver District councillor Mathew Bond. 

Less than five per cent of housing starts in 2019 in the district were dedicated to rental in 2019, and a majority of councillors in 2018 were elected on a platform of slowing down growth. 

"Right now I think we're in a bit of a holding pattern," said Bond, adding that it was important to remember that the entire region went decades without approving much new rental. 

"It's going to take more than a few approvals every few years to get out of this problem."