Arabnews24.ca:Thursday 8 June 2023 11:50 AM: Calgarians looking for a decent place to live say navigating the city's rental market has become an exhausting, demoralizing ordeal.
"As a born-and-raised Calgarian, I'm shocked. It feels pretty dismal," said Laura Martin, who is currently living in a mobile home park with her husband and three children.
The family used to rent a home in the southeast community of Midnapore, but decided in 2019 to downsize in order to save for a down payment, with the goal of purchasing a house. But those plans were derailed by the pandemic, an unexpected layoff and, now, inflation.
Martin says they now feel stuck in what was meant to be a temporary living situation. The mobile home is relatively affordable but small and in poor condition, and she's been struggling to get the landlord to complete long-needed repairs.
But finding a better place to live has been next to impossible.
"Options are few and far between," she said. "If I do find a rental that's under $3,000 a month that would accommodate my family of five and allow my pet, my cat, then oftentimes there's bidding wars on it."
She's far from alone in her struggle.
Recent increases in housing costs have far outstripped most people's income, according to a Calgary Economic Development report presented to city council this week.
"This means that 379,200 working Calgarians would be stretching their financial resilience to independently access even the most affordable of market housing currently available," the report says.
Calgary had a vacancy rate of just 2.6 per cent in October 2022, according to the latest report from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation. Outside the downtown and Beltline communities, the rate was even lower, ranging from just 1.2 to 1.9 per cent in other parts of the city.
And since October, the market appears to have tightened even further, as Calgary has experienced a population surge with an influx of people coming from across Canada and around the world.
Among them was Shannon Greer, who used to live in Calgary and moved back to the city in February after several years in Victoria, B.C.
She came back for a job opportunity and was taken by surprise at how hard it was to find a place to rent in 2023. Even in a tight market, she and her partner figured they'd be able to find something, as working professionals with no kids and no pets.
But the market is so tight, she's still looking for a place — four months after arriving — and has been relying on friends and family for temporary accommodations in the meantime.
"I've been experiencing sticker shock all over the place," Greer said. "And that's why I'm not even actually permanently housed yet."
At one point, she and her partner thought they had finally found a reasonably priced rental home and signed a lease, only to arrive on possession day and find the place in an unlivable condition.
"When we went in, the smoke detector was going off. There was a lot of personal items left in the home. There was mud all over the floor," Greer said.
"There was no hot water and also the furnace wasn't working. And so we ended up breaking the lease because ... the unit wasn't ready for safe occupancy."
It was a struggle getting their damage deposit and initial rent payment back, she said, but the landlord eventually refunded their money after relisting the house and finding a different tenant.
"I wonder what it's like for the folks who moved into that house, because it had quite a few problems," Greer said.
When conversing with potential landlords, Greer says the power dynamic in the market is clear.
"I saw a place in Inglewood and I asked quite a few questions, as you do as a renter," she said. "And I don't think that the landlord liked that, because I went through the application process, provided all my references, etc., and then she said: 'I don't think you're the right fit.'"
"And so I thought, 'Oh shoot, I can't ask any more questions.' So then the next place I saw, I was just like, 'Oh, it looks really good.'"
She also said the asking prices for rentals had a way of increasing, as soon as she showed interest.
She recalled one experience, in particular, with a rental in Marda Loop that was advertised at $2,450 per month but, when she inquired, the landlord said that was a mistake and the actual price was $2,550. She booked a showing anyway, only to be told the price was now $2,700.
Martin, who's still looking for an alternative to her mobile home, says the market has become competitive to a degree she's never seen before in Calgary, with so many people vying for so few rentals.
"It's bidding wars for rent. It's me against you," she said.
"I've had situations where I called landlords to make an inquiry about a property and they were requesting a non-refundable fee to process my application — so paying between $200 and $400 just to file an application."
Rising costs of owning, too
Meanwhile, interest rates continue to rise, with the Bank of Canada hiking its benchmark rate by another quarter-point Wednesday, to 4.75 per cent.
Rising mortgage rates have made buying a home more expensive — especially for first-time buyers but also for many landlords who own investment properties.
Martin says the prospect of her family owning their own home now seems out of reach.
And as she continues to look for an alternative rental to their mobile home, it's hard not be discouraged.
"It feels kind of dehumanizing, frankly," she said.
"To be in a situation where, as a tenant, I'm fighting to barely keep my head above water and then to have landlords basically have all of the power ... it really does make me feel trapped."
Still, she counts herself lucky, given what others around her have been going through.
"I have friends who are single moms who are on income assistance," she said. "They're just barely scraping by as is, and their landlord decided to double their rent or refuse to renew their lease, so they could have a higher-paying tenant move in. And now they're staying with family or in homeless shelters."
"The more society turns their head away from these issues," she added, "the worse it's going to get."