Local rental market rate puts on the squeeze

Many people are now renting privately owned condos from investors, and paying double the rent in the process.

The first ‘for rent” ads that popped up on Craigslist advertised a one-bedroom apartment for $750 a month, just off Lougheed Highway, up the street from the Salvation Army Caring Place.

Next to it was a new one bedroom for $1,150 a month.

Whatever the budget, renters have to move fast these day to get a place to live and avoid becoming one of the housing challenged.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report for this fall, the vacancy rate in Metro Vancouver will drop to below one per cent for the first time in seven years, when it hits 0.8 per cent.

Population growth and high housing prices, which keep people renting rather than buying, account for the decline.

In Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, the odds are a bit better, with a vacancy rate in September of 2.6 per cent, based on stats from the city’s housing action plan implementation framework.

The rental crunch may not be as bad as it looks, though, says Coun. Bob Masse.

“That number is not reflective of where a large amount of our actual rental stock is, which is not purpose-built rental housing.”

Purpose-built housing is rental apartment blocks, usually older with cheaper rents.

But many people are now renting privately owned condos from investors, and paying double the rent in the process.

Similarly, basement or secondary suites, aren’t factored into the vacancy rate.

“At the end of the day, it’s a huge problem, and one of the things we’ve tried to get back on the table is a new version of the MURB – multiple unit residential building program.”

That program ins from the 1970s and gave tax incentives to encourage investors to build rental apartment buildings.

“Maybe that’s one of things we might hope for from the change in federal government,” Masse said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau swore in his cabinet Wednesday after winning the Oct. 19 election.

The Liberals, in their campaign, promised to remove the goods and services tax on new capital investments in affordable rental housing, resulting in a $125-million a year incentive, the party says.

They say they’ll also tweak the Home Buyer’s Plan so that people in crisis, such as suffering the death of a spouse or divorce, don’t take a tax hit if they have to buy a new home. Supposedly, Canada Mortgage and Housing will also finance affordable rental housing.

According to stats, renting a place in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows became even tougher over the past two years.

In 2012, based on CMHC reports, there was a total of 1,523 purpose-built rental units – studios, one- two- and three-bedroom suites in both cities. That produced a more relaxed vacancy rate of 4.6 per cent.

Two years later, despite a population growth of two per cent a year in Maple Ridge, the number of suites had dropped to 1,509, producing the vacancy rate of 2.6 per cent.

Fortunately, during the same time period, average rents dropped in Maple Ridge from $827 to $816 a month, $300 less than Vancouver.

But the report notes those who rent investor-owned condos pay double the rent than those in purpose-built apartment buildings. The average rent for a two-bedroom investor-owned condo in Maple Ridge is $1,668.

Maple Ridge is trying to address the housing issue through its Housing Action Plan and its implementation strategy, OK’d by council in September.

The strategy calls for dozens of tactics to create more places for people to live.

“I think we’re pretty much doing what we can,” said Masse. “We don’t have the same latitude that Vancouver has.”

Housing remains an issue more for the provincial and federal governments, he added.

Some of Maple Ridge’s strategies for encouraging more housing is relaxing rules on secondary suites, allowing them to be built in homes with smaller lots.

The housing strategy calls for dozens of other moves that will soon come to council, such as:

• looking at encouraging new ways to own a home, such as through fee-simple rowhousing, land trusts or life leases;

• create incentives to encourage rental apartment buildings by using tax exemptions, parking relaxation and development cost charges;

• create another type of zoning to allow triplex and fourplex housing– that’s scheduled for completion this fall;

• widening the areas where rental apartments can be built over commercial buildings;

• continue to limit the demolition or strata conversion of existing rental apartments and to strengthen the policy.

• encourage the non-market housing sector through connecting non-profits to private developers who may want to partner as part of a density-bonusing arrangement in which the developer can build more units in return for building some non-market housing.