Median rent for apartments in Calgary has dropped six per cent in the past year, but anti-poverty advocates say more work is still needed to meet the housing needs of the city’s most vulnerable populations.
As of January, Calgary had the 17th-highest average monthly rent for one-bedroom homes in Canada at $1,227, according to a national rent report from Rentals.ca and Bullpen Research & Consulting.
The report analyzed rates and trends in the rental market for 30 cities across Canada, scoring six Alberta cities in the more affordable range for renters.
Calgary, along with Fort McMurray, ranked as Alberta’s priciest cities for rental units. Calgary also had the 18th-highest average monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit at $1,448.
Since January 2019, Calgary’s median rent for an apartment dropped by six per cent, according to the study.
But while that’s a “step in the right direction,” it doesn’t affect those struggling the most to pay for housing, according to Meaghon Reid, executive director of Vibrant Communities Calgary.
“We haven’t heard that six per cent trickling to the people who need it most, and it’s because that average rent was out of reach for them anyway,” said Reid, whose non-profit organization advocates for long-term strategies to address the root causes of poverty in Calgary.
“The real question is, ‘is there availability of affordable housing units in the city?’ and we know there’s quite a wait list.”
Last week, the federal government announced it would invest $24.5 million toward the construction of an affordable rental building in southwest Calgary.
The building at the western edge of the city, being developed by Truman Homes, will have annual rents set at less than 30 per cent of Calgary’s median household income, the company said. At least 31 units will be held at or below that level for 21 years.
Construction of the building is to be completed by June 2021.
HomeSpace Society, a charitable real estate developer, is also set to announce a 51-unit affordable housing development in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood on Thursday.
“We still have so much work to do on our affordable housing file,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Feb. 11. “Our strategy calls for 15,000 more units in the non-market space, and we’ll continue to work with our partners at the federal and provincial governments to ensure that everyone in Calgary has access to housing.”
Reid said many in Calgary are paying upwards of 60 per cent of their household income on housing.
“That means you have no buffer if anything goes off track,” she said.
“Once you’re over that 30 per cent, you’re more likely to fall into poverty.”
Calgary Housing Co. director Sarah Woodgate said Calgary has “fallen really far behind” other cities on the affordable housing file, as affordable units represent only three per cent of the city’s housing stock. The average for major cities across Canada is six per cent.
That translates to a gap of about 15,000 homes to meet the national average for urban centres.
Just 28 per cent of Calgary’s housing stock currently includes rental units, according to Woodgate.
Reid said those statistics show a need for more affordable housing options across the city, which increases the likelihood that people will not fall into or remain in poverty.
She added that last October’s provincial budget included a 24 per cent reduction in funds for rental subsidies, leaving people on longer wait lists for affordable housing in Calgary.
“What we know in the city is that one-in-six Calgarians are one paycheque away from financial ruin, from not being able to meet their basic needs,” she said.