More and more Canadians are renters. And their numbers will only go up.

That’s because sky-high home prices have crushed many home-ownership dreams, especially in Vancouver and Toronto.

But there are mounting issues with renting as well. Rental vacancy rates are at historic lows in Canada’s large cities, and rents are climbing faster than inflation. Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment last year rose 6.3% in Vancouver and 4.5% in Toronto.

The solution is to boost rental supply—a lot. There are reasons to be optimistic about Montreal and Vancouver, where strong apartment and condo construction will send a wave of new rental units to market over the next couple of years. Toronto is a different story. Despite purpose-built apartment construction rising four-fold since 2014, there’s a shortfall of some 9,100 rental units, and supply is unlikely to come close to demand in the coming years. The pace of new supply must at least double to stabilize rent.

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What’s needed in the Toronto area is a deliberate policy to boost rental supply. The Ontario government’s More Housing, More Choice—which, among other things, promises to cut red tape to speed up construction approval—is a step in the right direction.

But to really make things happen, the policy scale must be tipped in favour of building new rental supply. This could mean sweetening existing construction funding programs, offering new incentives (e.g. development charge rebates) or other creative proposals. It would also make sense to regulate short-term rentals, like Airbnb, that have diverted some rental housing away from long-term renters.

At a minimum, new policy should set multi-year supply targets across the entire housing spectrum, and provide annual progress reports, just as the City of Vancouver has done since 2017. Even if the prospect of owning a home is elusive, having access to rentals shouldn’t be.
 

Robert Hogue is a member of the Macroeconomic and Regional Analysis Group, with RBC Economics. He is responsible for providing analysis and forecasts for the Canadian housing market and for the provincial economies. His publications include Housing Trends and Affordability, Provincial Outlook and provincial budget commentaries.

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