Greater Victoria rental suite vacancies drop to 1.0%

Apartments for rent became scarcer and more expensive in Greater Victoria this past year, according to a report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. The latest CMHC Rental Market Report examining Greater Victoria showed a drop in the overall vacancy rate to 1.0 per cent in October 2019, down from 1.2 per cent in 2018.

The average rent for an apartment in October 2019 was up 3.4 per cent from 2018, to $1,221 a month. John Reilly, manager of housing, planning and programs for the Capital Regional District, said the low vacancy rates, high rents and lack of affordable housing are all worrisome.

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“A one per cent vacancy rate is basically telling the renting community there is almost no supply,” said Reilly. He said a healthy vacancy rate is generally considered about three to four per cent, but the CRD hasn’t seen that in at least a decade.

CRD data has shown rents rising about 20 per cent in the past three years, while increases in wages and salaries haven’t come close to that, Reilly said.

He noted, however, that the CMHC report reveals interesting regional differences. Langford has a low vacancy rate of 1.2 per cent, but leads the way in the construction of new purpose-built rental homes, with 602 of Greater Victoria’s 628 new rental units. More rental units are under construction in areas such as Saanich and Victoria, and have yet to be counted.

Reilly said the CRD is working on its own report, expected in March, to tease out data on affordable housing. “We know there is a considerable amount of units being built by non-profits through some of the B.C. Housing programs and us to deliver more affordability in the region.”

Rob Janus, director of communications for the philanthropic Victoria Foundation, said he isn’t surprised by CMHC’s rental findings. Janus said every year, housing gets the lowest grade — C minus — in the Victoria Foundation’s Vital Signs report. “It is perennially the worst-graded issue,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why it’s so difficult for businesses to find employees here. People have families and need to bring them, but they can’t afford a place.”

The rental-market report was part of CMHC’s annual national report, released on Wednesday. It showed the vacancy rate for rental apartments of all sizes dropped in Canada for the third year in a row, to 2.2 per cent from 2.4 per cent.

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