Rising apartment rents leaving a growing gap between Vancouver tenants

Rapidly rising rents mean that one Vancouver condo tenant might be paying hundreds of dollars more than a neighbour who lives just down the hall

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      A divide is growing between Vancouver renters looking for accommodations and those lucky enough to have found them.

      According to a recent Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) report, an occupied one-bedroom apartment in the city of Vancouver rented for an average of $1,325 a month in October 2017.

      To anyone looking for a place today, that price will sound like a steal. That’s because according to the same CMHC report, a vacant one-bedroom unit was listed for an average of $1,442.

      “Market rents currently faced by prospective tenants are seeing strong upward pressure,” it reads. “This also suggests that longer term tenants with lower-than-market rents may be less inclined to move to a different suite.”

      Other estimates suggest the gap between old and new tenants is even wider. According to PadMapper, a website that collects data from public listings like those posted on Craigslist, the median price for a one-bedroom in Metro Vancouver is $2,080. And according to Quantitative Rhetoric, a real-estate blog by a UBC-based data scientist named Louie Dinh, the median asking price for a one-bedroom in the city of Vancouver is $1,950 a month.

      It all means that one Vancouver condo tenant might be paying hundreds of dollars more than a neighbour who lives just down the hall.

      “If you’re coming into the market now, you’re going to end up paying significantly more,” said D J Larkin, a lawyer and housing advocate with Pivot Legal Society.

      “There are people who are working in this town full-time, making decent wages, and if they get evicted or if they have to move out of their place for whatever reason, they may have a lot of trouble accessing the same quality of rental, or accessing rental at all.”

      Fifty-three percent of Vancouver residents are renters. One of them is Andrea Reimer. The Vision Vancouver councillor has spent this month looking for a new place to live after her landlord sold her home and let her know with an eviction notice. In a telephone interview, Reimer argued for two possible solutions to the sort of housing instability that she’s encountered. The first is purpose-built rental buildings, where there aren’t landlords selling and reselling units.

      As part of a new 10-year housing plan, a comprehensive document released on November 23, the city wants to see 16,000 new units of purpose-built rental constructed by 2028. To make that happen, 12th and Cambie plans to offer incentives to developers and is even discussing rezoning certain areas of the city as rental-only.

      Councillor Andrea Reimer is looking for a new place to live this month, which she said makes her worry about other people who might be in the same situation but without the financial stability that her job allows her.
      Stephen Hui

      “The people who have good [low] rent, by and large, are people in purpose-built rental who have a built-in level of eviction protection,” Reimer said.

      She expressed concern for a generational gap developing among older tenants who have lived in the same place for many years—who are therefore protected from a rent increase beyond what's allowed by the province—and younger people who are searching for housing on Craigslist today.

      “They cannot understand how easy it is to get evicted,” Reimer said. “They are like, ‘Well, what did you do wrong?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I’m not living in a purpose-built rental because I didn’t start renting in the ‘80s. That’s what I guess I did wrong.’ They don’t understand how easy and how precarious most of the rental that people in their 40s and under are in right now.”

      The second solution Reimer offered would have to come from the provincial government: she wants rent control.

      “If you tied the rate of rent increase to the unit rather than the tenant, you would suddenly take away the incentive for most evictions,” Reimer said.

      Median rental prices for the City of Vancouver captured in October 2017.
      Louie Dinh

      Neil Vokey is a founding member of the Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU), which formed last April with the goal of better organizing renters to unify their interests. He emphasized the extent to which rapidly rising rents have upped the stakes of an eviction.

      “It can mean the difference between living in this city and not living this city,” he said. “The effect is, it’s pushing people out. And it’s raising people’s anxieties.”

      On the city’s new 10-year plan, Vokey said there are some good ideas there, but added that for many, it’s coming far too late, after rents have already risen far too high.

      He however echoed Reimer’s call for rent control. “That would be a huge disincentive for landlords to do things like renovictions,” Vokey said.

      In the meantime, Larkin noted an eviction can mean a rent increase of several hundred dollars a month. She said it’s therefore increasingly important for tenants to know their rights.

      “To know ahead of time what their rights are if their property is being sold, and know what their rights are if their property is being renovated,” Larkin emphasized.

      Travis Lupick is a journalist based in Vancouver. His first book, Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City's Struggle with Addiction, was published in November 2017. You can follow him on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.