2012 Villain: The Impossible Rental Market
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2012 Villain: The Impossible Rental Market

Nominated for: vacancy rates that make renting hopeless.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

For $750 a month, you might be lucky enough to rent a 200-square-foot basement bachelor apartment somewhere in Toronto, with one window and only a faint cabbage odour. But only if you come to the open house with a deposit, post-dated cheques, and a credit check in hand.

It’s long been a struggle to find affordable, reasonable rental housing in Toronto—but that struggle has gotten much more intense of late. The hunt can take months and wear on hunters’ mental health. Potential tenants stare one another down at open house–style showings. You may wish that other person “Good luck!” so the landlord will think you’re nice, but inside you’re screaming, “You are not the one who deserves to live here! It is for me!” Sometimes the screams can’t be held inside any longer.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation puts the national average rental vacancy rate at 2.3 per cent as of April 2012. A healthy rate is 3 to 4 per cent. Toronto’s is 1.5 per cent, and that’s trending down from 1.6 per cent a year before.

The outlook for two-bedroom units is even more bleak. The average monthly rent is $1,164—not bad—but the vacancy rate is 1.3 per cent. Compare that to Hamilton, where the vacancy rate for a two-bedroom apartment is 2.7 per cent, at an average cost of $876/month. And don’t even get us started on Montreal, where two bedrooms cost an average of $708/month and the vacancy rate is 2 per cent.

Twenty- and thirty-somethings have been advised to put off home ownership in favour of renting. And there are a lot of twenty- to thirty-somethings. In the 2006 census, 25- to 34-year-olds made up more than half of renters. And with steady immigration and baby-boomer children coming of age, the cohort of would-be tenants is growing.

Don’t look to the condo towers going up on every other corner for salvation. An estimated 25,000 to 28,000 condo units will be completed in 2013, but if the 2011 figures are any indication, only about a third of those will become rental units. Rental units that a landlord can turf you from if his daughter just broke up with her boyfriend and needs somewhere to live.

Acknowledging that renting is a legitimate way for grown-ups to live could be a start to easing the situation. As of 2008, renters made up 44.7 per cent of Ontario households, but only got 6.3 per cent of the government subsidies. The rest of the tax breaks and incentives went to home-owners. With so many forces stacked against them, it’s no wonder renters are feeling strained.

There are some faint signs of hope. There are more purpose-built rental units under construction here than there have been in 20 years. And if condo prices do go down, which they’re starting to, developers might be more enticed to put up rental buildings. And hey, it could be worse. You could be living in Regina (where the vacancy rate is 0.6 per cent) or in 1988 (when Toronto’s vacancy rate was 0.2 per cent).

But for now, at least, weary renters soldier on, taking references in triplicate everywhere they go.

See the other nominees in the Cityscape category:

The Gardiner Expressway

An eyesore that’s creating an increasingly dangerous commute.
  Breaking Condo Glass

Causing injury, closing streets, and sparking lawsuits.
  Donald Trump

Lending his name to an ugly, failing project.

Extreme NIMBYism

Taking the fear of change to irrational heights.
  Casino Pressure

Making it hard to make a good decision.
  Bike Lane Fiascos

More angry, more congested, and less safe streets.

Cast Your Ballot