While the housing market in Windsor-Essex has been the hottest in the country throughout the pandemic, the rental market is seeing quite the opposite.
The demand for rental units, excluding homes, in the Windsor census metropolitan area (CMA) saw the second largest decrease in demand compared to similar regions in Ontario, according to the latest report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Overall the region's apartment vacancy rate reached 3.6 per cent last year, an increase of 0.7 per cent from 2019. Despite this, rent still increased by more than 8 per cent.
The report attributes the declining demand to COVID-19, with the pandemic leading to job loss and a lower than usual student population residing in the region.
"We've very concerned about the Windsor market here," said Damon Winney, president of the Windsor-Essex Association of Realtors.
"I think we're well aware that we've got international students being left to work from home versus being given the credentials to study here locally so I think we've got some softness in the market there."
But what's helped people continue to pay their rent are the financial supports from the government, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the Canada Recovery Benefit and Employment Insurance Benefits, the report states.
It also states that because people between the ages of 25 and 44, who make up the majority of the rental market, were less impacted by job loss, the market wasn't as hard hit.
And while rental vacancies went up while the region's housing market saw a boom, the report says it's not because renters decided to become homeowners. Based on lower sales activity and lower mortgage approvals for those moving from apartments into homes, it doesn't appear as though that was the case, the report notes.
Spike in average rent
For those who continued to rent, the report says rent increased by 8.4 per cent, with the average monthly price hovering around $940. But Winney said it's important to realize that that is relative to what other regions in Ontario are seeing.
"It's painful for renters to see an increase, absolutely, but I think we've seen a cost base of homes increasing here as well so I think relatively speaking its not great for renters but it's indicative of Ontario as a whole," said Winney.
But the fact that rental homes are not included, means the report doesn't paint a clear picture, according to mortgage agent Rasha Ingratta.
She told CBC News that in the past year, investors purchased homes in Windsor to rent out.
A house on the rental market, she says, lasts about five days before it's taken.
"So how has our vacancy rate increased? So these numbers are because they're using apartments, not houses," she said, adding that average rent would also be higher if homes were included.
But, Ingratta said that overall what's happening in the market is only temporary — a loss of students or young apartment dwellers is not permanent.
"I really think this is going to be temporary shift. I don't think it's going to be a long-term shift," she said. "Right now vaccines are coming out, things are going to go back to normal and I think that it's going to stabilize."