Renters in Ottawa are finding it increasingly difficult to secure affordable housing as rents soar to record highs and the number of listings continues to dwindle.
The latest data from RentFaster, Canada’s popular rental site, shows that the average monthly price for a two-bedroom apartment, condo, townhouse, duplex or townhouse topped $2,000 a month for the first time this spring, reaching nearly $2,100. by mid-summer.
Meanwhile, the number of two-bedroom units available is now roughly half of what was available last summer — about 130 listings, compared to 310 listings last summer.
CBC News spoke with three Ottawa residents currently looking for a place to rent about the challenges they face.
Grace Salomonie: Too expensive without roommates
For Grace Salomone, a 21-year-old working professional, navigating the rental market means tough decisions.
Salomonia hoped to find a one-bedroom place all to herself. She wants a short commute to her downtown office where she works to save enough money to go back to school and one day own her own home.
But Salamonie has not yet found anything within her $1,200 budget.
“I want to invest in my future,” she said. “But with the current market in Ottawa, I’m not sure I could have the future I dream of or owning my own house.
She said she has already had to change her living arrangement by living with roommates. But she fears that as she gets older, she won’t be able to go out on her own.
The current rental options available to her would eat up a large portion of her income, leaving little room for any savings, Salomonia said.
“It was very, very expensive,” she lamented.
Erin Hobson: Outbid on 3 occasions
Erin Hobson, 39, and her husband lost out to competing offers from other tenants three times.
“It’s also very frustrating because you want to set yourself up and your husband and your family and everything to be successful going forward,” she said of their plan to move into a two-bedroom unit.
“We’re doing what we can, but we’re still not there yet.”
As of 2020, the couple lives in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Centretown, where they store their canoe above the bed to save space.
They are trying to find a two-bedroom unit with outdoor space and parking somewhere in the $1,500 to $3,000 per month price range.
Hobson said she’s lucky to be able to work on a tighter budget because both she and her husband work full-time.
After viewing the apartments, Hobson said she was disheartened by how difficult it was to find units at a reasonable price and surprised that they were being offered again and again.
Hobson said she is considering putting off looking for a bigger place, even if it means putting off plans like getting a dog or potentially having children in the near future.
Peggy Rafter: Threatened eviction and homelessness
Peggy Rafter is among about two dozen tenants facing eviction from Nepean’s Manor Village, where low-rent townhouses are slated for renovation to make way for upgraded student housing units.
The retiree has called her subsidized two-bedroom townhouse home for the past 30 years but has been told to vacate by the end of September.
“It’s scary,” she said. “I’ll probably end up in the shelter, like a few other people from here.
Rafter said she’s looking for a new place to live every day, but hasn’t found anything comparable to her home that’s also within her budget.
They currently pay less than $1,200 a month for their unit, which includes a finished basement and backyard — all including utilities.
So far, all similar units she’s found in the city have been more than $2,000 a month, well beyond her budget.
“That’s impossible for me or the other tenants to afford,” she said.
Rafter is working with the local chapter of ACORN Canada, a community-based social justice organization, to fight eviction notices. She and the other tenants are awaiting a hearing with the Landlord and Tenant Council of Ontario, which decides rent disputes.
Rafter said her situation is not unique and she would like to see more measures to protect low-income individuals from rising housing costs, including rent and vacancy controls.
Finding affordable units ‘pretty impossible’
The city’s lack of rental housing is just one factor contributing to rising rents, said Meg McCallum, interim executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa.
McCallum said approximately 34 per cent of households in Ottawa are rented, but less than half of those units are affordable.
“There’s not enough rental stock to begin with. And when people are looking for affordable homes, there’s so much competition,” she said.
Newer units also have higher price tags to account for rising construction and operating costs.
Ironically, one of the measures used by the Bank of Canada to tame inflation appears to be exacerbating the problem: According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, rising interest rates are causing more people to forgo home purchases and choose to rent instead.
The squeeze is especially hard on low-income families, McCallum said.
“There is almost a zero percent vacancy rate for affordable homes,” she said.
“For someone who’s working minimum wage or living off a pension or Ontario Works or receiving Ontario Disability Support, trying to find something you can afford is pretty much impossible.”
McCallum said a return to “normal” prices isn’t enough, pointing out that even before the pandemic, the city was dealing with a housing emergency and homelessness.
“We need to change the system, stop doing things the way we’re doing them and use the best practices that we can see across the country and internationally to really make some changes.”
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