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‘It’s alarming’: Spike in rental prices concerning for low-income housing advocates

A new report on the rental market in Canada shows Winnipeg had one of the highest jumps in the cost of one-bedroom rent year-over-year – a stat that is concerning for some low-income housing advocates.

The report was published by Zumper, which explored rental listings across the country in Canada’s 23 largest cities.

While the report found that Winnipeg was on the lower end of rental costs – tied for 18 – the one-bedroom rental market jumped 26.1 per cent year-over-year. Only Edmonton had a larger spike at 27.5 per cent.

“It’s alarming, (but) it’s not surprising,” said Josh Brandon, a community animator with the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

“That’s what we’ve heard from people we’re working with. It’s much harder to find any kind of housing that’s affordable.”

The year-over-year increase means the average one-bedroom for rent is around $1,400. Two bedrooms were also up by 17.9 per cent to be just over $1,700.

Brandon said there are instances where people are using more than 30 per cent of their income to pay for housing.

“One in eight renters are living in poor housing needs. So that means that they’re paying more than what’s affordable for rent or else they’re living in overcrowded housing that’s in poor condition.”

Christina Maes Nino, the executive director of the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association, said that the recent announcement of the minimum wage going up in Manitoba in October makes it really easy to notice problems for low-income earners.

“So it’s really easy to compare what a working-poor household might be getting as an increase of three per cent next year, whereas, the cost of rent is going up 26 per cent. So it’s pretty obvious that there’s a gap there in what people are going to be able to afford,” said Maes Nino.

She notes with climbing rent, families are having to make decisions on what to pay on a month-to-month basis.

“So food, transportation, if they need a vehicle, and rent. For seniors, we hear a lot about them making a decision between paying for prescription medication and rent. So households continue to have to make those tough choices, and some who can’t make those choices end up experiencing homelessness.”

With a continued rise in rental prices, Brandon said focus needs to be put on more affordable housing projects and strengthening rent control regulations in the province.

“There’s relatively good quality rent control for the lower end of the market. But once you get over a certain level in terms of rental costs, there isn’t rent control anymore,” said Brandon.

It’s something Maes Nino agrees with.

“Rent control is one part of the puzzle. The other piece of the puzzle is creating more non-profit housing, cooperative housing, non-market housing. It’s designed to be more affordable, that’s why it exists. Countries and cities that have more non-profit housing, tend to have more affordable rent overall.”

Even though the numbers in the rental report highlight some of the negatives in Winnipeg’s rental market, Maes Nino noted there are some positives as well.

She said seeing Winnipeg lower on the list does point to the city still being more affordable than most places in Canada and the listings that are part of the report are mostly new builds for rent.

“More housing supply is great. It does overall reduce prices over the long term. It doesn’t necessarily hit those very low-income groups because the market simply can’t fill those gaps. So it has to be that full spectrum of housing that we build.”

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