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Is Vancouver exaggerating the low vacancy rate by only looking at statistics for purpose-built apartments

Question: I understand Gregor and the Vision team misusing statistics for political purposes, but now the City is parroting the same in stating that “rental vacancy rates are at an all-time low of 0.8%” A simple review of CMHC data shows there have been many other times in the last thirty years plus when the rate was at 0.8% or lower. In addition, this rate does not factor in the thousands of condominium units owned by investors occupied by renters. I’m all for finding ways to make more rental units available, but misinformation should not be used by the civic government for political purposes. What’s your perspective on this?

Answer: I wish you had written more about why you think there may be many more empty apartments in Vancouver than city statistics let on. And I’m curious about what you think the political advantage is to the city to blather on about a rental crisis. (I’d think that they’d be trying to minimize it.)

Because everything I see on social media and from reports generated by people tracking, e.g. rental rates on Craigslist, etc., it looks as though there’s a desperate shortage. Rents are going up noticeably and, from everything I understand about economics, that can only happen if there are a lot of people looking for something that’s in short supply, allowing sellers to increase the price. The prices wouldn’t be going up if there were actually lots of empty apartments around.

I completely agree that we shouldn’t just be looking at the vacancy rate among purpose-built apartments, as the secondary market (investor-owned condos, laneways, basement suites, and the rest) account for a significant proportion of the stock.

But I know that CMHC also tracks the vacancy rate in that part of the housing market too now, as of a few years ago. So I found the report for 2016 (and 2015 and 2014, if you wish). If you look through it for the stats on the secondary market, it’s even worse than for purpose-built. The report for 2016 says the vacancy rate is 0.3 per cent, worse than the 0.9 per cent in 2015

You’re right that the city has seen low vacancy rates before. So why the crisis now?

Well, I’m happy to be argued with as I’m just speculating here, but my guess is that the current squeeze on apartments feels more dire to renters because they don’t have as many options to ditch the rental market by buying. Condo prices had been pretty flat for years so, if someone felt like they just couldn’t stand playing musical chairs any more in the rental market, they could always escape to ownership for a fairly reasonable price.

As I said, just a guess. And I’d still like to hear your thoughts on why you think it’s at all to the city’s advantage to manufacture a rental crisis if there isn’t one really.