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The future of the Canadian rental market in a pandemic world

Jamie QuadrosOctober 1, 20207 min

As we approach the end of 2020, much of the country is still contending with the pandemic. As some provinces approach zero-cases, others are beginning to see daily COVID-19 cases rising at discouraging rates. This has considerable implications for people’s health, livelihood, and homes. Self-isolation and quarantine requirements have made stable (and accessible) accommodation more important than ever – something that has been addressed in different ways across the provinces. In light of that, the immediate future remains an uncertain thing, especially as many of the measures put in place to help people and businesses weather the recent turmoil are now coming to an end.

Notable changes in the real estate landscape

A broad look at rental price changes across the country reveals interesting variation from province to province in the wake of the pandemic. While median and average rent ($1700 and $1769 respectively) in Canada has dropped from 2019, certain provinces such as Quebec and New Brunswick have seen substantial year-over-year price increases. Others, such as Manitoba, have seen drops of as much as 17% from the previous year. In light of that, many of the affected provinces have taken different approaches to quell some of the volatility. Take Nova Scotia and Ontario for example:

  • Nova Scotia residents call for rent control, in the face of sharply rising rental prices.

Nova Scotia has seen a resurgence of calls for rent control to be re-implemented by the government, as a means of combating the steeper-than-normal rent increases in residential rent. A 1% vacancy rate for Halifax, coupled with a lack of adequate supply to meet with rising demand for rental units, are all contributing factors to a situation that is far from ideal, especially during a pandemic.

Whether the provincial government will consider the measure or address the rises in other ways remains to be seen.

  • Meanwhile, Ontario (no stranger to rental woes, especially in cities) has seen its own share of market instability. The supply of rental units noticeably increased as properties previously used as AirBnBs were placed on the market. In fact, rent prices in August were about 11% lower than they were in August 2019 – undoubtedly a result of the coronavirus’ continuing effects on travel, tourism, and immigration. However, August 1 also saw the end of the provincial moratorium on residential evictions, shortly after the introduction of a controversial bill that people fear could result in retroactive and mass evictions.

On the heels of those decisions, the provincial government also announced a plan to introduce a bill freezing rent increases for 2021. If passed, this would provide a measure of relief to renters especially in light of the worryingly high daily COVID cases. Facing the possibility of unemployment (and renewed reliance on government assistance) should rising COVID numbers necessitate another lockdown, this is likely a welcome move for tenants and small businesses.

It’s difficult to gauge the overall impact of these decisions altogether, of course. There’s speculation it might finally end the housing bubble, as well as more concrete concern that it will negatively affect the supply of rental housing once again. It will certainly impact real estate companies heavily invested in renting property. A rent freeze wouldn’t eliminate their income streams, but it would cap them despite indeterminate increases in costs.

Final thoughts

If Nova Scotia and Ontario are anything to go by, it seems that questions of affordable housing and commercial rent-relief will persist even after we’ve put the coronavirus behind us. However, our current predicament is indicative of a positive shift in changing things for the better. If implemented the right way, the policies and plans put in place to see us through this pandemic will continue to demonstrate their worth once we’re in the clear. Our path forward must involve taking care of our most vulnerable, while doing our best to aid small businesses and impacted industries. With luck, Canada will emerge stronger and better equipped to handle the sort of world-changing adversity 2020 has brought us.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Jamie Quadros profile picture

Jamie Quadros

Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.

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