Ontario Rental Housing Crisis-compressed

Photo: James Bombales

Earlier this week, the Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario (FRPO) published a major report prepared by Toronto-based real estate market data firm Urbanation on the state of the Ontario rental market with a focus on the province’s largest region, the GTA.

A number of the report’s key findings will come as no surprise to those who have recently searched for rental housing in the city and surrounding region. Demand for rentals has hit multi-decade highs, according to the report, “driven by robust economic and population growth, job creation for prime renter cohorts, and a decline in homeownership affordability.”

While the report makes some encouraging observations on expected increases to the rental supply, the housing advocate concludes that a significant supply shortfall will remain and likely worsen unless the pace of construction ramps up quickly to meet demand.

Without policy action, the FRPO expects Ontario renters, especially those in the GTA, will experience mounting challenges in finding suitable housing.

Here are 11 stats from the report that illustrate the difficult market conditions that the province’s renters face:

1. The vacancy rate for purpose-built rental buildings sat at a 15-year low at the end of 2016. It was 2.1 per cent in the province and 1.3 per cent in Toronto.

2. The vacancy rate for Toronto condos — many of which are purchased by investors and added to the city’s rental pool — was even lower at the end of last year, sitting at a seven-year low of 1 per cent.

3. Eighty-five per cent of purpose-built rentals in Ontario are over 35 years old. Upgrading this aging existing stock will require a significant investment from rental owners, possibly to the tune of $5 billion over the next 5 years, the report estimates.

4. When looking at the age distribution of renters, the 25 to 34 year old demographic made up 21 per cent of total renter households in Ontario, making this cohort the “prime renter age segment.” The 35-44, 45-54 and 65+ age segments each made up 19 per cent of the total. Over the next five years, however, the prime 25 to 34 year old segment will see “accelerated population increases” thus further increasing demand for rentals.

5. Immigration to the Greater Toronto Area represented 30 per cent of Canada’s immigration total. Ninety thousand immigrants came to the region in 2016 and a similar number are expected to arrive in 2017. As the report notes, the majority of recent immigrants rent when they arrive.

6. After hitting a five-decade high in 2011, the homeownership rate in Ontario is expected to “flatten or decline in the next 10 years.” Affordability issues, higher interest rates and stricter mortgage policies are all expected to contribute to this trend.

7. By mid-2017, the cost disparity between owning and renting in the GTA remained at its highest level in more than five years.

8. On the rental supply side, purpose-built rental development reached its highest level since the 80s in both Ontario and the GTA. However, after the new rent control measures were unveiled as part of the province’s Fair Housing Plan, the rate at which new purpose-built rental buildings were proposed slowed when compared to previous quarters, with some projects originally proposed as rental even indicating a change to condominium.

9. On the rental demand side, the report forecasts that rental demand will outweigh supply by approximately 57,500 units over a 10-year period, or 5,750 units per year. This unit total “does not necessarily represent the level of additional rental development required to bring the market into a state of balance, but rather represents a level that keeps conditions from worsening over time.”

10. There is only one rental unit under construction per 1,000 GTA residents. In Vancouver, the ratio is over three rental units while in Montreal, it’s two units.

11. According to the report, rental starts need to double immediately and eventually triple from current levels just to satisfy demand.

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