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An "extreme shortage" of studio and one-bedroom apartments in Vancouver


Vacant suites draw lineups of up to 50 people

With vacancy rates of 0.3 per cent, renters scramble to find homes
Nicole Tomlinson
Vancouver Sun

Amanda Kent (left) and Alexis Twiddy are two potential renters that were out of luck when they attended a viewing of a one-bedroom apartment on West Third Avenue in Vancouver.
CREDIT: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun
Amanda Kent (left) and Alexis Twiddy are two potential renters that were out of luck when they attended a viewing of a one-bedroom apartment on West Third Avenue in Vancouver.

An "extreme shortage" of studio and one-bedroom apartments in Vancouver is driving parents, students and pet owners out of the rental market and leading to lineups for the city's few vacant suites.

The vacancy rate for bachelor suites has plummeted to 0.3 per cent, compared to the national average of four per cent for major Canadian cities, according to the most recent data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Vacancy rates for studio and one-bedroom apartments have been below one per cent in Vancouver since 2006.

"The market is astoundingly tight; 30, 40, 50 people are lining up trying to get into one apartment," said David Goodman, a Vancouver-based rental housing expert. "It's reached extreme levels of shortages."

The city's rental shortage is now a chronic condition, according to Kennedy Stewart, a researcher at Simon Fraser University who is authoring a study of rental affordability in B.C. municipalities.

"It comes with urbanization," he said.

"A chronically low vacancy rate is the sign of a city that has to adjust its expectations of lifestyle," he said, adding that people who want to live in high-density areas of "a teenage city" like Vancouver may have to sacrifice living space, vehicles and even furry friends until the new buildings age and owners aren't as concerned about maintaining their pristine condition.

"Older cities have a much more flexible housing stock ... we still haven't developed that yet," Stewart said.

The situation for tenants is the worst it has been in almost a quarter of a decade, said Martha Lewis, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre.

"The last year and a half it's gotten especially bad," Lewis said, adding that more than half the homes in Vancouver are rental units.

Pet owners are in an especially tough spot.

Before 2006, there were no provincial regulations that addressed landlords, tenants and pets, but changes now allow property owners to "choose to not have pets" or charge a deposit, said Marg Gordon, CEO of the B.C. Apartment Owner's Management Association.

"Before landlords were at the mercy of tenants; it's now very clear that they can choose," she said.

Naomi Man in't Veld is one renter who's feeling the squeeze. The 28-year-old professional, who is looking for a place for $1,200 or less a month, said owning two cats "feels like having the plague" because she's been looked over by landlords who "loathe" the animals.

"You go to an open house and there are a dozen people standing outside all looking at each other; it feels like an audition."

And Man in't Veld isn't alone; the "housing wanted" section of Vancouver's craigslist, a community website of classified ads, is littered with "housing wanted" posts from pet owners who are having trouble finding a home.

One of the ads is on behalf of Della Edmondson, 70, a shit tzu owner who is being forced out of her home because her son didn't pay the rent, said Kimberly Graham, a community outreach coordinator at the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society.

Graham posted the craigslist ad on Edmondson's behalf, noting the small dog is Edmondson's "only companion."

Aboriginals and other visible minorities are also being turned away from rental properties, even though discrimination based on race violates the the B.C. Human Rights Code, Graham said.

Alexis Twiddy, a 24-year-old graduate student, also said she's lost the tight competition for several apartments in the University of B.C. area because she doesn't have a full-time job.

"It appears that there's a lot available, but there are about 10 times more people looking for a place," said Twiddy, who's looked at about 25 apartments since she moved here from Ontario about a month ago. She fears wearing out her welcome if she's forced to stay with family and friends much longer.

Even parents are finding it hard to find places to rent. "People act as if children are a disease," reads a craigslist post titled "WHY DOES NO ONE ALLOW KIDS !!!"

Janice Abbott, executive director of the Atira Women's Resource Society, an organization that helps women and children who have been victims of violence in B.C., said finding housing for members has become "the single most difficult issue" the society faces.

"The women that we work with have an impossible time finding housing they can afford and that's in reasonable shape," she said, adding that most of the 7,000 victims the society deals with are single mothers.

Abbott, who is also the CEO of Atira Property Management, said the company has "never ever had a vacancy" in almost all 750 of its rental units for the last five years, the exception being one higher-end property in Vancouver.

The situation is only going to get worse if the real estate market continues to slow down and rental properties become even less appealing to own as property appreciation declines, Gordon said.

"Landlords are at the point where they can't afford to be landlords anymore," she said.

Murray Richardson owns three properties in Vancouver and says he's losing money because rents aren't going up as fast as his costs, adding "nobody wants to hang on to rentals."

It will take nothing short of a legislative and logistic overhaul to fix the "rental crisis," said Coun. Peter Ladner.

The mayoral candidate said federal laws implemented in the 1970s that stripped landlords of tax incentives other business owners enjoy was a "short-term stop-gap remedial measure" that's been around too long and needs to be changed to make rental property management in cities like Vancouver appealing again.


© The Vancouver Sun 2008


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CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.