Many other markets in Canada are also seeing the purpose-built rental stock shrinking. (The total number of purpose-built rental units in Canada actually increased by 5,648 units last year, however.)
But if Vancouver is a good long-term play, it didn’t – surprisingly – show the most dramatic increases in average rents last year nor did vacancies plummet significantly. Nor did Montreal or many other of the usual suspects.
The cities that showed the most potential to investors were those in transition, or on the fringes of tight markets. Suburbs of Montreal, the resource-driven economies of the Prairies that got a boost from resurgent oil and gas exploration last year, the rustbelt towns of southern Ontario were all where the opportunity was – and may well continue to be – through 2012.
What follows is a series of vignettes of some of the opportunities and markets that repeatedly surface when the numbers from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s latest Rental Market Statistics publication are crunched and sorted.
The community profiles look at trends in vacancies and monthly rents in each area; the charts and tables show how the communities stack up on a national scale.
A wealth of additional information for each province and what the statisticians term “Census Metropolitan Areas” is available online at www.cmhc.ca, but the following offers a glimpse of what lies ahead for 2012, based on what happened in 2011.
Home to meat packing plants that have attracted hundreds of new residents, Brooks is one side of Alberta’s booming economy. But with falling vacancies and a shrinking rental stock, the rental market is approaching that of a larger centre such as Edmonton. Vacancies were down 17% in 2011, hitting 7.3%, while total units dipped 1.1%. With approximately 28.5% of local residents renting, this trend poises the market to be a prime spot for landlords to serve a growing need.
Housing is perpetually tight in Calgary, the power centre of Alberta’s oil sector. Construction of new office towers and the companies tenanting those same towers have created jobs that continue to draw people to the province. The city saw vacancies drop 44.4% in 2011, hitting 2% -- one of the lowest rates in the country. Meanwhile, the total number of units available to rent also slipped, boosting upward pressure on rents. The greatest increases were seen on one-bedroom units, which rent for an average of $899 a month, and two-bedroom units, now $1,078 a month.
Despite a boom in new housing, Canmore hasn’t kept up with demand from renters. Close enough to Banff to be a retreat from Calgary and a home for resort workers, Canmore offers just 131 purpose-built rental units and the lowest vacancy rate in the county – 0. Demand for new rental units is strong enough to snap up anything that does come along; there were two units vacant last year, and none now. Rents for current listings are frequently in excess of a $1,000 a month, even for one-bedroom suites.
The academic and political hub of Alberta, Edmonton benefits from schools and hospitals that keep the rental market thriving. Despite the dubious distinction of being tops in Canada for homicides, Edmonton’s resilient rental market saw rents post stronger growth than in Calgary in 2011. A one-bedroom unit now commands and average of $857 a month, while two-bedroom units command $1,037 a month. Vacancies have dropped from 4.1% to 3.3% – a trend set to continue in step with demand for oil and gas exploration and other resource sector activities.
A jewel of Northern Alberta, Grande Prairie posted the strongest growth in one-bedroom rents of any market in Canada last year at 7%. Rents may not be the most expensive in the country, at $763 a month, but with vacancies sitting at 3.5% -- down 66.3% from last year – builders are moving to feed demand. Oil and gas sector activity is driving tenant demand, with Grande Prairie conveniently located between Edmonton and the Peace River oil and gas fields of northeastern British Columbia.
Located just north of Red Deer, this bustling Central Alberta town doubles as a suburb of Red Deer and a bedroom community for Edmonton, a 90-minute drive north. But with purpose-built rentals declining and vacancies half what they were a year ago, the upside for landlords is clear. Upward pressure on rents looms for residents who want to be centrally located in one of the country’s strongest job markets as vacancies move south of 5.6% and supply tightens.
A university town on one of the main east-west routes across Canada’s Prairie provinces, Lethbridge enjoys a small-town feel in a beautiful setting. Rents posted some of the strongest growth of any market in Canada in 2011, thanks to the city’s post-secondary institutions and a welcoming climate for seniors. The population grew 1.4% to 87,882 last year, with the average age being 37. A one-bedroom apartment now rents for an average of $758 a month, while a two-bedroom apartment commands $851 a month.
Located in Alberta for statistical purposes, this city’s tight rental market straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border and includes the adjacent towns of Lashburn and Marshall, both in Saskatchewan. Oil, gas and agriculture and big business here. The town is home to the Lloydminster upgrader, which has benefited from oil sands development, and plans are afoot for a biodiesel plant. Landlords, in turn, have seen vacancies plummet 69% over the past year – more than Grande Prairie, with which Lloydminster shares a 3.5% vacancy rate – and rents have strengthened accordingly. The city’s Alberta side has tended to see stronger population growth than its Saskatchewan side, but the city’s population has consistently posted double-digit rates of growth since the 1970s.
This bedroom community south of Calgary has benefitted from its neighbour’s boom, with strong demand from tenants seeking a place close enough to the city but beyond its shadow. Similar to Canmore, it is one of a handful of communities where vacancies dropped 100% in 2011. While the availability rate stands at 3.9%, any units that do become available are typically snapped up quickly. With no changes in stock, this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Posted rents start at approximately $1,200 a month for duplexes and townhomes.
This fast-growing city located between Edmonton and Calgary is a hub in its own right for central Alberta. A service centre with a stable industrial base, the city is a bedroom community for the province’s largest cities with an economy of its own providing local employment. Vacancies sit at 2.9%, down 60% from a year ago. This poises rents to reverse a decline seen most significantly in studio apartments; family-oriented units have remained the most resilient, with units of two bedrooms or posting modest gains. A one-bedroom suite rents for $694 a month, down slightly from a year ago, while two-bedroom units average $827 a month and larger units commend $949 a month.
Wetaskiwin may be off the Highway 2, but this has helped make it a desirable bedroom community for Edmonton, with the added bonus of being closer to the city’s international airport than Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert and communities to the north of the city. Combined with rising absorption and a declining stock of rental housing, the city is a stable long-term play for savvy investors as Edmonton continues to grow south. Approximately 35.6% of Wetaskiwin residents rent. Vacancies average 6.4%, while current listings peg one-bedroom apartments at $700 a month and up.
Vancouver Island’s laid-back lifestyle helps support the rental market in Courtenay, which is moving from a resource-based economy to one driven by tourism and supported by the military base CFB Comox. A popular destination for retirees, approximately a fifth of the population is seniors. Vacancies in Courtenay have continued to tighten even as the rental stock as declined, and now average 3.5%. The market is stable, but the demand for new homes will continue to exert pressure on the existing purpose-built rental stock, primarily older buildings.
Fort St. John
Oil and gas exploration drive rental activity in Fort St. John and nearby Dawson Creek, which enjoys similar conditions in its rental market. Northern Lights College in Fort St. John broadens the city’s appeal to newcomers, including a number of foreign students who come to pursue English and other studies. Renewed interest in the resource sector in 2011 helped cut vacancies to 5.1%, even as the existing rental stock fell by approximately 40 units. Posted rents for one-bedroom apartments are in the range of $850 a month.
The question investors face looking at Kitimat is whether or not it’s too late to jump in: Once the poster child for down-at-the-heel northern communities, Kitimat saw a stunning 82.1% drop in vacancies from 30.2% to 5.4%. The trend, linked to the upgrade of Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter, is set to continue as plans for a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal proceed. The jobs promise to reverse years of declining population, and bodes well for what is emerging as a boom-time rental market with new rental units already being built to meet demand.
Portage La Prairie
With vacancies sitting at 1.3%, tighter than major cities such as Vancouver, Portage la Prairie landlords are enjoying good times. Driven by investment in local potato processing plants and retail developments, the city is becoming a southern Manitoba hub and attracting new residents. Rental stock is also tightening, as developers move to build new homes to accommodate newcomers, further boosting landlords’ fortunes. It’s a positive shift from two years ago, when some observers touted the city as one of the worst places in the country to live.
The so-called “Hub of the North” may seem a surprising play for landlords, but Thompson is one of a handful of communities in Canada that saw vacancies drop 100% in the past year. In addition, the city’s total rental stock dropped 4%, adding further pressure to the market. Drivers of demand include the Vale Inco nickel operations and the Wuskwatim hydro project (set to complete this year). The city remains a retail and service centre for northern Manitoba, with a shortage of affordable housing.
Manitoba’s capital can’t help but see steady demand, thanks to government and post-secondary institutions, and a resurgent financial sector. Winnipeg has attracted new residents seeking good quality housing, driving up rents in consequence as older units are upgraded or replaced by new units. Vacancies sit at 1.1%, driving up rents for one-bedroom units by 4.3% and 4.5% for two-bedroom units. Studio apartments have seen the greatest increase at 7.2% to $522 a month. A two-bedroom suite commands $874 a month.
While subject to the comings and goings of students enrolled at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas, among other schools, Fredericton also enjoys a strong government presence and central location that makes it a prime location for companies doing business across New Brunswick. Proximity to the U.S. border is also an advantage. A one-bedroom unit rose 3.9% last year, and now rents for an average of $637 a month. The increase occurred despite relatively stable vacancies market-wide of just 2.4%. Two-bedroom units command $755, while houses rent for an average of $1,005 a month.
Canada’s oldest incorporated city is banking on shipbuilding, one of the city’s historic industries, to bolster its fortunes. A new naval contract recently awarded to Irving Shipbuilding will boost employment at its Saint John yards, while the energy sector has also boosted employment in the traditionally working class city. Two-bedroom units here saw one of the country’s biggest rent increases last year, rising 3.7% to $670 a month. While vacancies increased market-wide to 5.9%, employment growth in the coming years promises to lower that figure significantly.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Declining vacancies and new construction flags Grand Falls-Windsor as a centre worth attention. A company town from the start, it was hit hard by the closure of the local pulp mill in 2009. Nevertheless, vacancies dropped 45.5% in 2011 to bottom out at an exceedingly tight 0.6%, even as purpose-built rental units expanded the stock 3.1% to 661 units. That leaves four units available for newcomers to rent, and opportunities for investors to provide new supply.
As in many other provincial capitals, government employment and post-secondary institutions have kept rents rising in the upper end of the market. St. John’s posted the biggest gain in two-bedroom rents of any city in Canada last year, with units commanding an average of $770 a month – up 6.5% from 2010. Three-bedroom-plus accommodation also posted a respectable 4.9% increase over the previous year. Although vacancies are trending higher, they’re still tight at 1.5% city-wide. This is a stable market with rock-solid fundamentals.
Government, hospitals, universities, a strong military presence and a port: What more could this capital city want? Vacancies average a respectable 2.4%, but with the awarding of a new naval shipbuilding contract to local dockyards, expect demand for housing – rental and otherwise – to intensify in the coming years. This promises to put upward pressure on rents, which are already enjoying significant year-over-year gains relative to the rest of Canada. Rents for studios rose 6% in 2011 to reach $670 a month, while two-bedroom units saw rents increase 3.8% to top $925 a month.
One of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in Ontario, Barrie can attribute much of its growth to that of Toronto, 90 kilometres south. It effectively serves as a bedroom community of the larger metropolis, with a third of its residents commuting outside the municipality for work. Rental vacancies dropped 43.8% in 2011, and with minimal additions to the rental stock, tenant demand should continue to boost rents for select housing types. While one bedroom rents rose 3.9% last year to $884 a month, one of the biggest increases in the country, units of three bedrooms and more were unchanged at $1,120 a month and studio rents actually fell 1.3%.
The city’s industrial base is complemented by proximity to CFB Trenton and several post-secondary and penal institutions in Kingston, an hour’s drive east. Vacancies average 3.6%, but rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments have posted increases that put them in the top-10 nationwide. One-bedroom apartments rent for an average of $735 a month, up 4.4% from last year, while two-bedroom suites lease for $840 a month, up just 3.7% from last year.
The last half of the 20th century was not kind to Brantford, but with vacancies down 53.8% in 2011 it has given landlords cause for cheer. Small additions to the rental stock underscore investor interest, driven by the presence of some large industrial concerns and proximity to Toronto. A bedroom community with jobs of its own to offer residents, it is bolstering its ability to weather economic storms. Studio rents posted the second-biggest increase of any metropolitan area in Canada last year, hitting $654 a month – a 10.5% increase from 2010. One-bedroom rents rose 4.5% to $726 a month.
Beautification of the Lake Ontario waterfront has boosted the livability of Cobourg, which enjoys a prime position between Toronto and Kingston with good highway access and other transportation connections. Small surprise, then, that rental vacancies average 1.9%, down 26.3% from last year. Primarily a residential community, Cobourg’s economy is underpinned by agriculture and food, tourism and more recently the Cobourg Innovation Centre’s focus on environmental technology companies.
Sudbury, known to generations of school children for its giant nickel, now claims fame for rents rising faster than the rate of inflation. All classes of rental housing saw rising rates this past year, while vacancies were stable at 2.7%. Studios posted the greatest increase of any class, at 5.9% ($540 a month). One- and two-bedroom units posted more modest gains of 3.5% and 4.8%, respectively, with rents of $712 and $887 a month. Average rent on single-family homes run $946 a month. Diversification away from mining has emphasized the city’s role as an administrative and service centre for Northern Ontario.
Guelph is close enough to Toronto to serve as a bedroom community, but its eponymous university also provides a stable base of institutional jobs and government-funded research programs. Auto parts manufacturer Linamar is the city’s single-biggest employer, helping keep the local unemployment rate among the lowest in Canada. The various enterprises supports a rental market catering to students and residents connected to the city’s institutions. Rental vacancies fell 62.5% last year, hitting 1.2%, a trend that promises upward pressure on rents which spent the last year lagging the inflation rate.
Despite the fact vacancies doubled over the past year, rental rates in Kawartha Lakes (a municipality centred in Lindsay, Ontario) have been resilient. Rents for all types of rental accommodation except studios posted respectable increases, exceeding the rate of inflation. One-bedroom apartment rents grew at 6.3%, a rate second only to resource-driven Grande Prairie, and now sit at $788 a month. Two-bedroom rents check in at $948 a month, 3.7% greater than last year. Agriculture and manufacturing are primary business activities, and Sir Sanford Fleming College’s environmental sciences program is well-respected.
Vacancies in the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo metropolitan area average 1.8%, a 30.8% drop from last year. Research and development activities, manufacturing and academic institutions anchor the region’s economy. It is also close enough to allow commuting to Hamilton, Mississauga and Toronto. While increases in rents have been modest, barely keeping pace with inflation, the stability of the area makes it desirable. Waterloo’s student population helps explain in part why studios posted the most significant increase this past year, landing at $608 a month – an increase of 3.2% from 2010.
Meaford posted a 55.7% drop in vacancies in 2011, with overall vacancies now standing at 3.5%. The absorption of units promises to stabilize rents, which average in the high $700s for a one-bedroom suite or $1,200 for a house. Plans by the local council to encourage local job opportunities promises to strengthen the local economy, which to date has been primarily agricultural. Research and development, particularly in the agriculture and high-tech sectors, have been targeted, and promise to make the community a destination for more than the tourists coming to Georgian Bay.
Norfolk County was the best place in Canada to be renting out a studio suite in 2011. Rents rose 11.5% to $515 a month, even as rents on one-bedroom units slipped and two-bedroom units posted a modest rise of just 3.3% (to $629 a month). Additions to the rental stock may have accounted for some of the decline in one-bedroom rents and an increase in vacancies (now sitting at 5.3%, a percentage point higher than last year), but with its frontage on Lake Erie and bucolic setting, Norfolk County rates high in livability.
Hard times for auto manufacturers have hit Oshawa, but statistics show rental vacancies tumbled 43.3% here last year. Vacancies now sit at 1.7%, while two-bedroom rents have increased 4.1% to $941 a month. Other types of rental units have kept pace with inflation. Proximity to Toronto has undoubtedly helped the rental market here weather the economic storms of recent years, while being far enough out of the city means Oshawa offers a more relaxed pace of life.
Canada’s international military operations may have been scaling back in 2011, but that didn’t stop rental vacancies in Petawawa from tumbling 87.2% to a mere 1.1%. Home to a large military contingent, the community also enjoys some demand from activities at the nuclear plant in Chalk River, a 20-minute drive north. Rents in Petawawa are in the $1,100 a month range for two-bedroom accommodation.
Schooling and manufacturing keep Peterborough running. Home to Trent University and plants belonging to Quaker Oats and General Electric, vacancies in the city remain a modest 3.4%. The stability of the city have helped keep rental gains equally modest, with the biggest leap being in studio apartments – 5.3% last year, placing rents at $553 a month. Two-bedroom units ,which remain virtually stable last year, average $891 a month.
Home of Canada’s own Shakespeare festival and Justin Bieber, this pleasant southern Ontario town saw vacancies decline 71.4% last year to 1.8%. Surrounded by rolling farmland, the town is also the new headquarters of bathroom fixture manufacturer Crane Plumbing Corp. Between tourism, manufacturing and proximity to the bustling Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo area, the community’s rental market possesses solid fundamentals.
Home to Lakehead University, so-called for its position at the western end of Lake Superior, Thunder Bay saw vacancies drop by a third last year to 1.3%. Still, the Great Lakes port city has seen small change in rental rates, which have tended to lag inflation. One- and two-bedroom rents are $641 and $769 a month, respectively. The biggest gain over the past year was for units of three bedrooms and more, which rent now for an average of $926 a month – up 6.8% from last year.
The former hub of the country’s tobacco industry, Tillsonburg has diversified its economic base with many residents now working in the auto sector. It is also close enough to London and Toronto to serve as a bedroom community for these larger centres. Rental vacancies sit at 3.6%, down 34.5% from a year ago. Rents for one-bedroom homes are in the $750 a month range.
Canada’s most diverse city is unique among the country’s three most populous metropolises insofar as its rental rates posted a stunning one-third drop in 2011. This, despite rising purpose-built rentals and condos underscores the demand for housing in this most urban of Canadian cities. Vacancies now average 1.4% across the metropolitan area, equal to Vancouver’s perpetually tight vacancy rate. Studios performed best, with rents rising 5.4% to $819 a month. One- and two-bedroom units saw increases in line with inflation, and currently sit at $977 and $1,148 a month, respectively.
One-bedroom and two-bedroom suites posted healthy increases in rents in 2011, driven in part by the addition of new purpose-built rental units to the local market. While vacancies rose to 3.1%, slower than the increase 4.2% in supply, rents for one-bedroom units rose 4.3% to $602 a month while two-bedroom units saw rents rise 4% to $762 a month. While a long-standing centre of government and post-secondary institutions, Charlottetown has sought to broaden its economic base with technology companies – largely call centres, but increasingly research and development firms associated with the University of PEI and Holland College, the province’s community college.
This northern Quebec town has long been resource-driven, with recent investments being made to upgrade pulp and paper and aluminum plants which benefit from dams along the Manicougan River. Vacancies dropped 44.1% in 2011 and now average 1.9%, even as new rental construction has boosted the available stock by 4.1%. Though relatively isolated, ferry and rail links with Matane on the south shore of the St. Lawrence keep it connected, as does the regional airport in Pointe Lebel. The city’s status as a regional hub add to its lustre for landlords.
Situated on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River 200 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, this hub for the Lac St. Jean region typically posts steady growth in rents. A stable market serving a population of blue collar workers and students, rents grew 3.7% to 6% over the past year, with studios enjoying the healthiest increase. Studio rents now top $388 a month, and one-bedroom units fetch an average of $446 a month. Two-bedroom rents average $557 a month. Recent investments in hydroelectric and aluminum plants promise increased activity in the coming years.
The addition of new rental units to Quebec City’s housing stock has added to supply in the past year, and vacancies now average 1.8%. Rising rents for studio and two-bedroom units make this stable administrative centre an appealing place for investors, however. With institutions stabilizing the local market, and the broadening of the economy to include technology alongside traditional resource industries, demand for rental units in the city is stable. Tenants are paying $523 a month for studios, up 6.3% from last year, while two-bedroom units rent for an average of $718 a month, up 3.8% from a year ago.
Situated southeast of Montreal, St. Hyacinthe is both a bedroom community for the city and an agricultural centre just off Highway 20, the main east-west route south of the St. Lawrence River. St. Hyacinthe saw one-bedroom rents increase 4.1% last year, even as purpose-built rental units added modestly to the stock of available units. Vacancies are stable at 4.4%, and while conditions softened slightly, the addition of new units is a vote in favour of this community.
This former milltown remains an industrial centre as well as a comfortable suburb of Montreal. Its location near the Ontario and U.S. borders, and not far from the bucolic Eastern Townships, the community is a popular place to rent. Vacancies dropped 78.3% in 2011 to a stunning 0.5%, even as new construction boosts the available rental stock by 2.8%. There are typically no more than a dozen free units at present. Rents for two-bedroom apartments are in the range of $625 a month.
A bustling military and commercial centre for the fertile agricultural belt south of Montreal, St. Jean saw vacancies drop by half last year to 1.4% and rents rise in line with the rate of inflation. While it was hit hard by spring flooding in 2011, the community offers is a stable long-term play that seldom sees the dramatic swings of other markets. One-bedroom suites and homes offer the best opportunities for landlords. One-bedroom rents average $497 a month, up 2.5% from a year ago, while three-bedroom suites and houses posted a rise of 8.6% and now average $695.
One of Canada’s oldest cities, this historic town on the banks of the St. Lawrence River has seen growth in recent years thanks to efforts to bolster its post-secondary and technology sectors; Marmen Inc. manufactures wind turbines, for example. While the city’s vacancy rate is steady at 3.8%, new purpose-built rental construction is expanding the stock of apartments. The strongest growth in rents is seen in studio apartments, which climbed 5.9% in 2011 to an average of $374 a month.
Northern Saskatchewan’s resource-based revival is benefitting landlords in North Battleford, which saw rental vacancies drop by two-thirds last year to 1.2%. This exceptionally tight market is now allowing landlords to ask $750 a month for one-bedroom units and $900 a month for two-bedroom suites. Growth prospects are strong, driven by the rolling out of $1 billion in new investment in construction and industrial sectors. Retail activity alone is expected to grow by half by 2020, reflecting the influx of new residents and demand for services across northwestern Saskatchewan.
Rents in Regina are among the fastest-growing in Canada. A precipitous 40% drop in vacancies and a shrinking rental stock have out upward pressure on rents in this Prairie city, which long lagged its northern neighbour Saskatoon despite being the seat of government and wheat kings. Rents for studio apartments posted the strongest growth in Western Canada last year at 8%, and now command an average of $564 a month. A one-bedroom unit in this prairie capital now rents for an average of $789 a month – up 6.3% from a year ago. Rents for two-bedroom units posted 5.5% growth to top $938 a month. The growth rivals that of resource-driven Grande Prairie, and 2012 shows no signs of the trend ending.
Students and families are the core of Saskatoon’s rental market. Backed by growth in the resource sector, and a stable base of universities with active research and development programs, Saskatchewan’s largest rental market is in good shape. Studio apartments and three-bedroom-plus accommodation are commanding rising rents even as vacancies remain relatively stable at 2.6%. Studio rents average $632 a month, up 5.5% from a year ago, while houses and three-bedroom apartments command $1,149 a month – up 10.9% from a year ago. Combined with a lush river valley and high quality of life, Saskatoon’s job opportunities make it a prime place to locate.
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For landlords, however, cash flow remains king. Some perennially tight markets, like Vancouver, have been in vogue with foreign investors who see good long-term potential in a market where new apartment blocks aren’t being built.