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News - All - 20 Oct 2019

News Item 85 of 4716 

Miscellaneous: 20 Oct 2019
The hunt for reasonably priced rental housing is increasingly tough in Waterloo Region

Gary Young and Maureen Ellis weren't happy with their Kitchener apartment, but the semi-retired couple were astounded and frustrated at how difficult it was to find an affordable, relatively pleasant home after they gave notice. - Mathew McCarthy , Waterloo Region Record

WATERLOO REGION When Maureen Ellis and Gary Young decided to move from their two-bedroom apartment in midtown Kitchener, they naively thought they'd be able to find another decent place, at a reasonable price, fairly easily.

Instead, their search for a new home became increasingly desperate as they scoured rental websites for hours every day and saw decent apartments get snapped up in hours.

They stood in line with dozens of others for the chance to view potential apartments, were told to put in rent bids starting from the listed rent, and were asked to hand over sensitive personal information like tax forms and social insurance numbers.

"We weren't looking for anything outlandish, but we were absolutely shocked at what you might get for $1,500 or, later, $1,700 (a month)."

The whole process was demoralizing and humiliating, and left the couple feeling vulnerable.

"It was so cutthroat," Ellis said. "We went to a lot of places. A lot. You'd see things posted an hour ago, and it already had 400 hits."

They weren't looking for anything luxurious, she said. "We just want a normal apartment that has some light, and accessibility to amenities, and a secure bicycle cage."

As they chatted with other would-be tenants in apartment viewing lineups, they heard stories that horrified them of students sleeping in their cars after rental offers were retracted, of a couple forced to live apart when their landlord sold their apartment.

They saw decrepit, depressing apartments on offer for more than $1,500 a month. Ellis' spirits rose when she saw a listing for one bedroom for $1,000 a month, only to realize the ad was for a room, not a one-bedroom apartment.

As time wore on, they considered apartments they would have passed up initially. Instead of two-bedroom units, they considered bachelor apartments, and places further from the core, even though they don't own a car. They even considered living in Airbnb rentals, which would have been cheaper than many of the places they looked at.

"You start second-guessing yourself. You get desperate."

They advertised themselves on Kijiji and prepared a package for landlords, promoting themselves as a responsible, semi-retired couple with a good rental and credit history.

Some landlords asked for sensitive and personal information such as social insurance and bank account numbers. Others banned pets, in defiance of Ontario law.

They decided to leave their current apartment in August a move Ellis now admits was "naive" because they felt they were paying more than it was worth and had ongoing troubles with repairs and maintenance

After they gave notice, they saw their apartment listed for $1,950 plus utilities 30 per cent more than the $1,500 plus utilities they were paying.

Ellis and Young recently found a suitable place, at a higher rent than they'd originally been prepared to pay. But they say the fact that they white, middle-class, English-speaking, with a good rental and credit history had such trouble only underscores how difficult it is for all tenants to find a decent home at a price they can afford.

"We're so grateful to have this nice place (to move to), but to pay $1,650 a month that's an obscene amount of money."

Even during the two months they searched for a new place, rents seemed to rise by about $200, Ellis said.

The statistics bear her out. Rents for one-bedroom apartments in Kitchener jumped an astounding 16 per cent from a year ago, according to rental search engine PadMapper the highest increase in the 24 cities PadMapper monitors. Inflation over that period was about 1.6 per cent.

While the rental supply in Waterloo Region is relatively healthy the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. pegs the vacancy rate for one-bedroom apartments at 2.9 per cent many are aimed at a high-end market, and are advertised as 'luxury rental.'

"The demand is outstripping supply for units that are in the affordable range," said Ryan Pettipiere, director of housing at the Region of Waterloo. "Whether you are middle- to even high-middle-income, you're getting affected."

The tough rental market puts pressure on the 5,000 to 6,000 subsidized units that the region oversees for people on limited incomes, Pettipiere said. Tenants whose situation improves aren't able to move out of subsidized housing, since there's little else available.

"We're seeing this bottleneck," he said. "The number of unit turnovers we have in a given year continues to decrease as the affordability gap continues to grow."

Ellis said the tough rental market is deeply concerning. "Everybody should be able to find a place that's reasonable," she said. "Not luxury, but so they can still afford to buy food and maybe go out for the odd coffee."

Pettipiere agrees. Having a decent place to live "is not something that's a nice-to-have. It's a necessity."

Twitter: @ThompsonRecord

Twitter: @ThompsonRecord

Catherine Thompson Waterloo Region Record/Twitter/AA

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