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Will the housing crisis finally make someone pay attention to renter issues?

July 11th, 2016 · 25 Comments

That’s what I’m wondering, as the bizarre Vancouver and Toronto real-estate frenzies mean that more people are staying in the rental market for longer — maybe forever.

The Globe is doing a series on renter issues. I kicked it off on Saturday with a look at the general picture across the land and a little bit of history about how we got here, along with the stories from a few renters, some going through hell, and some who’ve found a way to cope.

Canada has an unusually high home-ownership rate, at 69 per cent. At this point, it’s higher than the rate in the United States. And, although I know I’m just asking for a troll attack by daring to mention this fact, Vancouver has a high ownership rate compared to other cities.

I’ve often wondered if both of those are due, in part, to the fact that renters feel so unprotected. (My guess would be another big part is the fact that real estate in Vancouver has been the go-to investment vehicle for decades, seen as something that will gain value at better than stock-market or bank-interest rates.)

Housing researchers tell me it’s impossible to sort out all the factors that go into that high ownership rate, but I can’t help but think the tenuous situation for renters plays a part. As Ingrid Cheung said in my piece, she and her partner panicked when they thought they would have to move and scrambled to make an offer on their apartment when it was put up for sale.

The problem I see, too, with this issue is that a lot of people, even in the renter world, are probably doing okay. Like with homeowners, if you got a place many years ago and you’re not in danger of being kicked out, you’re probably paying way below market because your landlord was restricted to cost-of-living rent increases.

So it’s really the newcomers and those thrown unwillingly into the market who are feeling the most pain. Are they a big enough group to get some political attention? Well, feels like these days, anything could happen. Maybe Christy Clark will have a news conference next week announcing more money and more protections for renters.

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