Where can you afford to rent?

By Nael ShiabCBC News • June 11, 2024

Canada is in a rental housing crisis, with affordable homes disappearing at an alarming rate across the country. According to a CBC News analysis of over 1,000 neighbourhoods across Canada’s largest cities, less than one per cent of rentals are both vacant and affordable for the majority of Canadian renters.

To gauge the extent of the rental housing crisis, CBC News combined 2021 census data with the most recent findings from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rental market survey, conducted in October 2023.

If you needed to find a home to rent, could you? To find out, start by entering your annual household income before tax.

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Where would you like to rent?
How many bedrooms?

The map below shows you where potentially vacant and affordable two-bedroom rentals are concentrated.

Hover or tap on an area to get the details.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation rental data covers urban areas with more than 100,000 people. We analyzed all of them, and the chart below shows you how they compare relative to your housing needs and income.

How do you want to see the data?

Toronto is among metropolitan areas with the lowest percentage of potentially vacant and affordable two-bedroom homes you could afford. Click on “Count” to see how many homes this represents.

Priced-out families and minimum-wage workers

As rental availability decreased, rental costs have surged across Canada in recent years. Since 2018, the average rent for a two-bedroom home has increased 70 per cent faster than wages.

For low-income Canadians, this means fewer housing options. In October 2023, across the 35 metropolitan areas CBC News analyzed, only 1,400 bachelor or one-bedroom homes were vacant and located in neighbourhoods that full-time minimum-wage workers could afford. This is 0.09 per cent of all bachelor or one-bedroom rentals.

Finding a place to call home is also daunting for families. Rentals with multiple bedrooms are as scarce as they are costly. Only 14,000 units with two bedrooms or more were potentially vacant and affordable for the median income of families living in a rented place. For single-parent families, the number drops to just 7,200. This is 0.5 per cent and 0.3 per cent of all rentals with two bedrooms or more. Again, these numbers are the total for all metropolitan areas where more than 30 million Canadians live.

Has your family been struggling to find a place to rent? We'd like to hear from you. Email us at ask@cbc.ca.

The situation is precarious in all provinces. In the past five years, rents in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Alberta increased nearly twice as fast as wages. All provinces have vacancy rates below the housing shortage threshold.

To get these numbers, CBC News purchased custom data from Statistics Canada and updated it with the latest rental market survey from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, conducted in October 2023.

Check how your province is doing with the interactive chart below.

Select a province
Vacancy rate

The vacancy rate for a two-bedroom home was 1.7% in October 2023, which means there was a housing shortage.

Gap between rent and wages

The average rent of a two-bedroom unit increased 48% faster than the average wage.

Average rent for a two-bedroom increased by 34% (from $1,263 to $1,689 monthly)
Average wage increased by 23% (from $28.18 to $34.63 hourly)

The vacancy rate and the average rent come from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and the average hourly wage comes from Statistics Canada.

Canada’s rapid population growth, partly propelled by temporary immigration, has strained rental stock, says Steve Pomeroy, executive adviser and industry professor at the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative at McMaster University. “The federal government is now trying to manage the situation by putting quotas on the number of visas, which will help in the long run. But we’ve got three or four years of trying to build enough housing to accommodate all the people that already came in.”

However, it’s “important to stress that immigration is by far not the only factor,” says Kevin Hughes, deputy chief economist at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). “In some markets, the supply has increased, but more on the upper scale. But for affordable rentals, that’s another question. And that’s where the biggest problem lies.” In addition, the construction industry is grappling with a labour shortage and high inflation, driving up material costs.

Simultaneously, high property prices and interest rates are compelling potential first-time buyers to remain renters. With the job market doing fairly well, young workers are also eager to leave the family nest. All of this adds up and traps Canadians in a situation of very high demand for rentals, with very few vacancies.

“For vulnerable groups, a decrease in affordable housing can have dramatic cascading impacts,” says Jean-Philippe Deschamps-Laporte, assistant director of the Centre for Income and Socioeconomic Well-being Statistics at Statistics Canada. The increased cost of housing is one of the biggest driving factors of homelessness, says the expert. Indigenous and racialized communities, who are more likely to be renters, are also disproportionately at risk of being unable to pay for a roof over their heads. And it’s much harder for victims of abusive relationships — primarily women — to find a new place where they will be safe.

Catherine Leviten-Reid is an associate professor at the University of Cape Breton who leads research projects on affordable housing. “There is no housing for those most in need. This highlights the need for a massive investment in affordable rental housing,” she says. The latest federal budget allocates billions and a “renters’ bill of rights” to tackle the crisis, but their effects may take years to materialize.

Leviten-Reid emphasizes the necessity for new regulations. She suggests landlords could be required to annually report information about rent and included utilities for both vacant and occupied units. This would facilitate inspections of housing conditions and address significant gaps in rental market data. As CBC News found out while working on this project, not much information is available outside of major centres. Many municipalities are left blind, Leviten-Reid says.

Vacancy control is another critical legislation that could help prevent steep rent hikes when tenants move out, and new ones come in. Pomeroy was against that at first. “I've changed my mind in the last three or four years as I've seen these massive rent increases. We need to preserve those lower rents.” Pomeroy proposes exempting the first 10 years of new rentals to avoid impeding the construction of much-needed new units.

“For the majority of Canadians, renting is a transitory period after leaving the family household and before becoming owners, says Deschamps-Laporte from StatCan. “But first-time buyers are getting older.” As housing costs rise, fewer renters can save enough money to purchase a first property that will become a long-term investment and, for many, a key part of their retirement plan.

Recent analyses by his research centre show that children of homeowners are more likely to become homeowners themselves. “There is a family advantage at play,” says Deschamps-Laporte. “We find ourselves in a situation where part of the population is homeowners, while another part is renters. This raises questions of housing equity.”

“There is no doubt that many Canadians today are living in a state of crisis,” says Kevin Hughes from CMHC. Hughes warns that if nothing changes, more people will get priced out of housing, which could hinder the economic development of major urban centres. “If you want cities to grow, you need workers, and workers need to stay somewhere.”

Have you been affected by Canada's rental housing crisis? Get in touch with us about your experience by sending an email to ask@cbc.ca.

How we got the numbers

CBC News purchased custom Statistics Canada 2021 census data and updated it with the latest rental market survey from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, conducted in October 2023.

The detailed methodology and calculations can be found here. Our calculations and numbers were shared before publication with the experts quoted in the article above. Their suggestions helped inform the analysis.

Do you have data that tells an important story you'd like to share? Write to nael.shiab@cbc.ca.

  • Design: Richard Grasley
  • Development: Naël Shiab, Charles Wong
  • Data research and analysis: Naël Shiab, Aloysius Wong

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