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Why rent is so expensive in Canadian cities (that aren’t Toronto or Vancouver)

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When rent goes up, it often goes up most dramatically in major urban centers. And, sure enough, Toronto and Vancouver have consistently been in the spotlight as rental prices have skyrocketed over the last year. A two-bedroom apartment in the Ontario capital averaged $1,765 a month in 2022, while the same place in Vancouver soared to $2,002, according to the latest Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

But it isn’t just a problem for Canada’s biggest cities.

Across the country, high-interest rates have left would-be homeowners renting rather than buying, driving up demand in the rental market. Stable youth employment has also boosted demand, as has an uptick in net migration, the report said, given that young people and new immigrants tend to rent rather than buy.

But every region has its own unique factors driving up the cost of rent, from an improved economy in the West to the impact of students returning to campus in college towns.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in some of those other rental markets.

Calgary

Janice Rourke, 67, recently received a notice that rent in her downtown apartment was going up nearly 24 per cent, an increase it blamed on the rising price of utilities, maintenance and other costs. (Alberta doesn’t have a cap on rent increases, though it does limit how often rent can be raised.)

“That was a huge surprise, when I saw the amount,” said Rourke, who is currently between jobs and said it will be a struggle to afford the new monthly bill.

Janice Rourke sits in the dining room of her downtown Calgary apartment.
Janice Rourke says she was surprised to see a notice that the rent for her Calgary apartment was going up nearly 25 per cent. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

She’s considered searching for a less expensive place, but says the prices of nearby apartments haven’t been much better.

In Calgary, the average price of a two-bedroom rental apartment grew six per cent last year to $1,466 a month, according to the CMHC.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find safe, affordable accommodation,” said Rourke.

Existing tenants like Rourke and those on the hunt for a first apartment are facing a tight rental market in Calgary these days. Last year, the city’s vacancy rate for purpose-built rentals dropped to 2.7 per cent, its lowest since 2014 when the previous oil boom of the early 2010s lured many people to Alberta.

Rental demand has, this time, again been buoyed by a record-high level of immigration and an uptick in “in-migration” — people moving to the province from elsewhere in Canada — lured by Alberta’s relative affordability and available jobs.

“This [provincial migration] is significant, because we haven’t seen this for a lot of years,” said Michael Mak, CMHC’s analyst for the region.

What makes today different from previous boom times, Mak said, is that the current economic growth isn’t entirely linked to strong commodity prices, though those certainly played a role. Employment has also grown in other sectors, especially technology.

“Nowadays, it’s a much more diversified economy,” said Mak.

Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo

The rental market in Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, a cluster of three small cities some 90 kilometres southwest of Toronto, has been tight for several years, with a vacancy rate hovering around two per cent. In 2022, it dipped even further to 1.2 per cent, the region’s lowest in two decades.

Meanwhile, apartment rental prices grew by more than seven per cent — faster growth than the nearby markets of Toronto, Guelph and London, according to the CMHC report. The average price for a two-bedroom rental is now $1,469.

Sana Banu, a recent graduate of Conestoga College and president of the students’ union, recalls moving to the region in 2018 as an international student and easily finding a room to rent near the Kitchener campus.

Sana Banu is president of Conestoga Students Incorporated.
Sana Banu, president of Conestoga Students Incorporated, says trying to find a place to rent in the Ontario region of Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo is putting students in increasingly precarious circumstances. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

“[Today,] there is no availability anymore within the vicinity of the campus,” said Banu.

The return of students to campus, after so much remote learning during the pandemic, has been among the drivers of the tight rental market, according to CMHC. The region is home to Conestoga College, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

While all students contribute to demand for rentals, Banu says international students are less likely than domestic students to have family near campus, and more likely to rent while they study.

The number of international students studying in Canada has been on the rise for years, and while their numbers dipped during the outset of the pandemic, the CMHC says there’s since been a “strong rebound” of study permits issued in Ontario.   

The CMHC report says a surge in permanent resident admissions in the region has also likely contributed to demand for rentals, as has employment growth in its high-tech sector.

As rental options become fewer and farther between, Banu says more students are commuting from outside the region, couch surfing or piling multiple roommates into the same bedroom. As students become more desperate, she’s also concerned they’ll also be more likely to fall for rental scams.

“There is not enough supply for the demand that we have right now,” she said.

Halifax

A man in a suit smiles for the camera.
Kelvin Ndoro is a senior analyst with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), based in Halifax. (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation)

Both international and, increasingly, inter-provincial migration have contributed to high demand for rentals in Halifax. Nova Scotia gained 17,319 people from international migration and 14,079 from within Canada between July 2021 and July 2022, according to the province’s Department of Finance.

Halifax’s recent surge of in-migrants has been due to the province’s relatively low cost of housing and its reputation for handling the pandemic, along with the growing ability of workers to do their jobs remotely, according to the city’s economic development agency.

The CMHC report says in-migrants are generally less likely to rent and more likely to purchase homes, though this, too, has contributed to the high cost of renting.

“Local residents are having to stay in rentals longer just so that they can step up to buy a home,” said Kelvin Ndoro, CMHC’s analyst for the region.

After trending down for the last few years, the vacancy rate in Halifax held steady in 2022 at one per cent, said Ndoro. Meanwhile, the cost of rent shot up by roughly nine per cent, to an average of $1,449 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Halifax’s rental housing vacancy rate is now one per cent according to a new report by the CMHC. (Robert Short/CBC)

Amid that record-low vacancy rate, Chris Ryan, a Halifax property manager, says he gets between three to five inquiries a day from people asking if he has any inventory available.

“We’re just growing at a pace that real estate hasn’t caught up to yet,” he said.

Halifax, like Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, has an abundance of post-secondary schools. And the post-pandemic return of students to campus — and international students in particular — has contributed to demand for rentals, the CMHC report noted.

International student enrolment has been on the rise there for years (aside from a dip during the pandemic), according to data from the Halifax Partnership. The economic development agency says the share of international students attending university in Halifax has grown from about 14 per cent of enrolments in 2011-12, to about 23 per cent in 2021-22.

Kyle Cook, vice-president of advocacy for the Saint Mary’s University Student Association, says the lack of student housing has left some in a precarious position.

“Often we’re hearing … that students are renting out their living rooms, hallways,and sometimes having to share two to three people in one room,” said Cook. “It’s something that is very common, especially over the last few years since COVID.”

As more people move into Halifax, others have left for nearby communities, in search of a more affordable place to live, Ndoro says.

Some young people are opting out of the rental market altogether, he said, instead choosing to live with their parents to save money.

Urgent need

There are differences in what’s fuelling rental demand throughout Canada, but also plenty of similarities. As interest rates go up, it becomes more difficult to buy, pushing more people to rent for longer.

People are also moving into Canada and within it — whether for school, work or in search of an affordable place to live — leading to heightened demand in various markets, even those where inexpensive apartments have historically been fairly easy to find.

There is also one major similarity in what is expected to solve the affordability problem: more housing supply.

“[The results of this report] reinforce the urgent need to accelerate housing supply and address supply gaps to improve housing affordability for Canadians,” the CMHC report said.

 

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Half of Ontarians support union’s goals in ongoing LCBO strike: poll

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Fewer than one-third of Ontarians say they want the provincial government to intervene to end the 12-day strike at Ontario’s main liquor retailer, while about half are supportive of the striking union’s demands.

That’s according to a new Leger poll that asked if the government should use binding arbitration or legislation to ensure LCBO stores open as soon as possible.

Twenty-nine per cent of respondents supported such a move, while 44 per cent opposed it. The poll also asked if respondents support the union’s stated goals, including wage increases and more permanent positions. Just under half, 49 per cent, answered in the affirmative, while 25 per cent said they were not supportive.

Awareness of the strike in Ontario is high, according to the poll, with 89 per cent saying they knew about it, though only 15 per cent reported being personally affected. The Leger poll of 601 residents, conducted last weekend, can’t be assigned a margin of error because online surveys are not considered truly random samples.

Approximately 10,000 workers at the LCBO walked off the job on July 5 after negotiations broke down.

The union representing the workers said the sides were headed back to the bargaining table Wednesday.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union has said the main issue is the province’s alcohol expansion plans that would see ready-to-drink cocktails sold outside LCBO stores — a move it maintains poses an existential threat to the LCBO and could lead to major job losses.

Colleen MacLeod, chair of the union’s LCBO bargaining unit, has said the plan would “mean thousands of lost jobs, fewer hours for the 70 per cent of LCBO retail workers who are casual and struggling to make ends meet, and hundreds of millions in dollars of lost public revenues drained from health care, education and infrastructure.”

The LCBO, a Crown corporation, nets the province $2.5 billion a year.

On Monday, the Ontario government sped up its expansion plan. The 450 stores across Ontario already licensed to sell beer, wine and ciders will be able to start ordering coolers and seltzers on Thursday and sell them as soon as they arrive.

The province has said it does not want to privatize the LCBO, and that the expansion is about giving people more choice and more convenience to buy alcohol.

Stephanie Ross, an associate professor in the school of labour studies at McMaster University, said Premier Doug Ford doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to labour, given the high-profile disputes in recent years with health-care and education workers. And he’s faced accusations of making policy moves that benefit friends in the private sector, a criticism that’s been levied against him in the LCBO dispute.

“There is a base of support for the union’s message here, both in terms of the working conditions that they’re trying to fight to improve, and in terms of the role that the LCBO plays in funding public services in the province,” she said.

But the public may not be as sympathetic to LCBO workers as it has been to some others, like in the Metro grocery workers’ strike last year, she said — a relatively straightforward fight by low-paid workers struggling to afford food against the industry being partially blamed for food prices.

“And so in the depths of a kind of historic cost-of-living crisis, I think it was easier to feel sympathy for such workers in terms of really having to fight to make up lost ground.”

That means the LCBO union has its work cut out to try and convince the public of its cause, said Ross, especially when consumers are already divided on the liquor privatization issue in the first place. She thinks the union is doing a good job, however, of arguing the case for the LCBO as a public asset that helps fund important public services.

Larry Savage, a professor in the labour studies department at Brock University, said it’s clear both the union and the Ford government “are working hard to win over the public to their respective positions.”

The union has a “potentially powerful strategy” to gain public support, but it’s not a surefire one, he said in an email.

This strategy “requires people to connect the dots between the privatization of the LCBO and the loss of a critical revenue stream that contributes billions to public services like health care and education.”

Meanwhile, the government’s strategy has been to try and leverage consumer frustration over the strike in order to drive more support for increased privatization, said Savage.

“It’s a high-risk strategy because a heavy-handed approach can sometimes backfire and garner greater sympathy for the workers and their cause.”

In the Leger poll, 32 per cent of respondents said they looked for alternative locations to buy alcohol due to the strike, and while 15 per cent said they were concerned the strike could cause them to spend more money on alcohol.

Savage said while many consumers are likely inconvenienced, he also thinks most Ontarians are suspicious of the premier’s intentions when it comes to the LCBO: “It’s a classic case of private profits over the public good.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2024.

 

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Half of Ontarians support union’s goals in ongoing LCBO strike: poll

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Fewer than one-third of Ontarians say they want the provincial government to intervene to end the 12-day strike at Ontario’s main liquor retailer, while about half are supportive of the striking union’s demands.

That’s according to a new Leger poll that asked if the government should use binding arbitration or legislation to ensure LCBO stores open as soon as possible.

Twenty-nine per cent of respondents supported such a move, while 44 per cent opposed it. The poll also asked if respondents support the union’s stated goals, including wage increases and more permanent positions. Just under half, 49 per cent, answered in the affirmative, while 25 per cent said they were not supportive.

Awareness of the strike in Ontario is high, according to the poll, with 89 per cent saying they knew about it, though only 15 per cent reported being personally affected. The Leger poll of 601 residents, conducted last weekend, can’t be assigned a margin of error because online surveys are not considered truly random samples.

Approximately 10,000 workers at the LCBO walked off the job on July 5 after negotiations broke down.

The union representing the workers said the sides were headed back to the bargaining table Wednesday.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union has said the main issue is the province’s alcohol expansion plans that would see ready-to-drink cocktails sold outside LCBO stores — a move it maintains poses an existential threat to the LCBO and could lead to major job losses.

Colleen MacLeod, chair of the union’s LCBO bargaining unit, has said the plan would “mean thousands of lost jobs, fewer hours for the 70 per cent of LCBO retail workers who are casual and struggling to make ends meet, and hundreds of millions in dollars of lost public revenues drained from health care, education and infrastructure.”

The LCBO, a Crown corporation, nets the province $2.5 billion a year.

On Monday, the Ontario government sped up its expansion plan. The 450 stores across Ontario already licensed to sell beer, wine and ciders will be able to start ordering coolers and seltzers on Thursday and sell them as soon as they arrive.

The province has said it does not want to privatize the LCBO, and that the expansion is about giving people more choice and more convenience to buy alcohol.

Stephanie Ross, an associate professor in the school of labour studies at McMaster University, said Premier Doug Ford doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to labour, given the high-profile disputes in recent years with health-care and education workers. And he’s faced accusations of making policy moves that benefit friends in the private sector, a criticism that’s been levied against him in the LCBO dispute.

“There is a base of support for the union’s message here, both in terms of the working conditions that they’re trying to fight to improve, and in terms of the role that the LCBO plays in funding public services in the province,” she said.

But the public may not be as sympathetic to LCBO workers as it has been to some others, like in the Metro grocery workers’ strike last year, she said — a relatively straightforward fight by low-paid workers struggling to afford food against the industry being partially blamed for food prices.

“And so in the depths of a kind of historic cost-of-living crisis, I think it was easier to feel sympathy for such workers in terms of really having to fight to make up lost ground.”

That means the LCBO union has its work cut out to try and convince the public of its cause, said Ross, especially when consumers are already divided on the liquor privatization issue in the first place. She thinks the union is doing a good job, however, of arguing the case for the LCBO as a public asset that helps fund important public services.

Larry Savage, a professor in the labour studies department at Brock University, said it’s clear both the union and the Ford government “are working hard to win over the public to their respective positions.”

The union has a “potentially powerful strategy” to gain public support, but it’s not a surefire one, he said in an email.

This strategy “requires people to connect the dots between the privatization of the LCBO and the loss of a critical revenue stream that contributes billions to public services like health care and education.”

Meanwhile, the government’s strategy has been to try and leverage consumer frustration over the strike in order to drive more support for increased privatization, said Savage.

“It’s a high-risk strategy because a heavy-handed approach can sometimes backfire and garner greater sympathy for the workers and their cause.”

In the Leger poll, 32 per cent of respondents said they looked for alternative locations to buy alcohol due to the strike, and while 15 per cent said they were concerned the strike could cause them to spend more money on alcohol.

Savage said while many consumers are likely inconvenienced, he also thinks most Ontarians are suspicious of the premier’s intentions when it comes to the LCBO: “It’s a classic case of private profits over the public good.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2024.

 

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Being Angry at Employers for Looking out for Their Interests Won’t Land You a Job

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The current job market is a stark reminder of a fundamental truth: The employee-employer relationship is inherently asymmetrical. This asymmetry is the default of the employer taking on the risk of investing capital while employees only invest their time. Employers have the upper hand, and the right to work ultimately depends on their decisions, as evidenced by layoffs.

 

Employees don’t own their jobs; their employers do.

 

In the face of rejection after rejection, job seekers become frustrated and angry, blaming employers for being unreasonable, greedy, or only looking out for their interest, as if their employers are in the business of hiring people. This mindset is counterproductive and will only hinder your ability to land a job.

 

I don’t think job seekers are angry with employers. I think they’re angry because they were in demand, and now they’re not. Recently, the tech industry has had more than its share of layoffs. Most likely, until now, those laid off had only experienced being highly sought after. A shift of this kind requires humility, which is lacking amid all the anger directed at employers.

 

When making a hiring decision, the employer rightfully prioritizes its interests over those of the job seeker. Employers seek candidates who can deliver value and contribute to their organization’s success. In contrast, job seekers look for roles that fit their skills, experience, and career goals. Employers looking after their interests aren’t wrong or nefarious; it’s simply smart business.

 

Employers’ self-interests are not your enemies. Instead, use them to your advantage by identifying them and positioning yourself as the solution. Demonstrating how you’ll support the employer’s interests will turn you from a generic candidate into an asset.

Three strategies can be used to align your self-interests—presumably landing a job—with those of an employer (Envision, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”):

 

Understand the employer’s priorities, the obvious being to generate profit.

 

Job seekers tend to focus solely on the job description and the required qualifications and overlook the company’s overall goal(s). Knowing (read: researching) the company’s goals will enable you to explain how your skills and experience can support their goals.

 

Suppose you’re applying for a marketing coordinator role at a rapidly growing tech startup. The job posting lists key responsibilities, including managing the company’s social media accounts, creating content, and planning events. However, after studying the company holistically, you find, like most companies, it prioritizes gaining new customers.

 

With this knowledge, you can position yourself as a candidate who can help drive that growth by emphasizing, using quantifying numbers (e.g., In eight months, increased Instagram followers from 1,200 to 32,000.) in your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter and during your interview, your experience developing high-performing social media campaigns attracting new leads for previous employers. You could mention your innovative ideas for using user-generated content to raise brand awareness or partnering with industry influencers. The key is to show that you possess the required functional skills and understand the company’s overall goals and how you can help achieve them.

 

Explain how you’ll make your ‘to-be’ boss’s life easier.

 

Your ‘to-be’ boss is juggling a million competing priorities, budget constraints, and pressure from their boss to optimize their team’s productivity.

 

Position yourself as the candidate who’ll simplify your ‘to-be’ boss’s life, and you’ll differentiate yourself from other candidates. During the interview, make it a point to understand the specific pain points and challenges your ‘to-be’ boss is facing—I outright ask, “What keeps you up at night?”—and then present yourself as a solution.

 

Perhaps the department has a retention problem. You could tell a STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) story, demonstrating your ability to build strong cross-functional relationships and create a positive work culture that boosts employee engagement and loyalty.

 

Educating your prospective boss that by hiring you, they’ll have one less headache is a hard-to-ignore value proposition.

 

Show how their success is equal to yours.

 

Hiring boils down to finding candidates who can drive measurable business results. Don’t rely solely on your skills and experience. Outline how you can deliver tangible benefits to the employer. Quantify the value you’ve brought to previous employers.

 

If you’re applying for a sales role, share data on the year-over-year revenue growth, client retention rates, and customer satisfaction scores you achieved in your previous positions. Quantify the value you brought to the organization, then explain how you can replicate or exceed that level of performance in the new role.

 

Say you’re interviewing for an IT support position. In addition to highlighting your technical expertise, again using a STAR story, highlight your expertise in streamlining processes, reducing downtime, and providing exceptional customer service. Tie those accomplishments back to the employer’s need to maximize productivity and minimize disruptions.

 

The key is to make a compelling case that the employer also succeeds when you succeed.

 

It’s understandable to feel frustrated by rejection, but the most successful candidates recognize that employers have legitimate business priorities. Identifying an employer’s interests and showing how you can support them will improve your chances of landing a job. Stop expecting an employer to save you. Save an employer.

_____________________________________________________________________

 

Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers “unsweetened” job search advice. You can send Nick your questions to artoffindingwork@gmail.com.

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