Canada’s four million renter households woke up to more bad news this morning as the latest survey from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation shows that the country’s already dangerously low rental vacancy rate has slipped even lower.
There’s more bad news: The CMHC survey reveals that over the past year, rents have increased faster than the rate of inflation and also that there is no relief in the so-called secondary rental market (rented condos), where the vacancy rate and average rents are even worse than in the conventional private rental market.
The CMHC rental market survey, which is being released twice-annually starting with today’s publication, is considered a leading indicator of the relative health of the private rental market, where most low, moderate and middle-income Canadians live.
A lower vacancy rate means fewer apartments are available. CMHC reports that the number of vacant apartments across Canada dropped from about 51,000 in 2005 to 48,000 in 2006. Higher rents makes it more difficult for low, moderate and middle-income households to pay the rent, plus cover the cost of energy, food, medicine, transportation and other necessities.
The need for affordable homes is growing across Canada due to immigration (most immigrants arrive in Canada poorer than resident Canadians, and they remain poorer for longer) and persistent poverty.
Governments at the federal level, and in many provinces, cut billions of dollars from affordable housing programs in the 1980s and 1990s, hoping that the private rental market would supply the homes that are so desperately needed. But the private market is failing in almost every part of Canada – including the booming cities of Alberta, where a robust private economy is supposed to “lift all boats”.
Canada is one of the few developed countries in the world without a comprehensive and fully-funded national housing program. The latest rental market numbers show that there will be no miracle in the private sector to provide housing for low income Canadians. It points to the urgent need to move from the current inadequately-funded patchwork of federal, provincial and municipal initiatives to a truly comprehensive and properly-funded program.
The CMHC numbers don’t measure the relative housing needs of Canadians, but simply record averages in the private rental market. In December of 2006, CMHC reported that one million renter households and half a million owner households were in core housing need – a key measure of the country’s affordable housing crisis.