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“Finding a Suitable Rental in Calgary Today: The Experience of Semi-Dehumanization” | Breaking:


Calgarians looking for a decent place to live say navigating the city’s rental market has become an exhausting, demoralizing ordeal.

“As a native of Calgary, I’m shocked. It feels pretty awful,” said Laura Martin, who currently lives in a mobile home park with her husband and three children.

The family used to rent a house in the southeastern community of Midnapore, but decided to downsize in 2019 to save for a down payment, with the goal of buying a house. But those plans were derailed by the pandemic, an unexpected layoff and now inflation.

Martin says they now feel trapped in what was meant to be a temporary living situation. The mobile home is relatively affordable, but small and in poor condition, and she struggles to get the landlord to make the long overdue repairs.

But finding a better place to live has been nearly impossible.

“There are few options in between,” she said. “If I find a rental for less than $3,000 a month that will fit my family of five and allow my pet, my cat, there are often bidding wars.”

She is far from alone in her struggle.

‘Sticker shock’

Recent increases in housing costs have far exceeded most people’s incomes, according to one Calgary economic development report presented to city council this week.

“This means that 379,200 working Calgarians would stretch their financial resilience to independently access even the most affordable market housing currently available,” the report said.

Calgary had a vacancy rate of just 2.6 percent in October 2022, according to the final report of the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation. Outside of the downtown and Beltline communities, the rate was even lower, ranging from just 1.2 to 1.9 percent in other parts of the city.

And since October, the market appears to have tightened even further as Calgary has experienced a population boom with an influx of people from all over Canada and around the world.

Among them was Shannon Greer, who used to live in Calgary and returned to the city in February after several years in Victoria, BC.

She came back for a job and was surprised how hard it was to find a place to rent in 2023. Even in a tight market, she and her partner thought they could find something, as working professionals with no kids and no pets.

But the market is so tight that – four months after arriving – she is still looking for a place and in the meantime depends on friends and family for temporary housing.

“I experienced sticker shock everywhere,” said Greer. “And that’s why I’m not even really permanently housed yet.”

Shannon Greer moved back to Calgary from Victoria, BC and was surprised at how difficult it was to find a rental in the city in 2023. (Google Meet/Screenshot)

At one point, she and her partner thought they had finally found a reasonably priced rental and signed a lease, only to arrive on the day of possession to find the place in an unlivable state.

“When we went in, the smoke detector went off. There were a lot of personal items in the house. There was mud on the floor,” Greer said.

“There was no hot water and the oven didn’t work either. And so we broke the lease because… the unit wasn’t ready for safe occupancy.”

It was a struggle to get their security deposit and first rent back, she said, but the landlord eventually refunded their money after they relisted the house and found another tenant.

“I wonder what it’s like for the people who moved into that house because it had quite a few problems,” Greer said.

Power dynamic

In conversations with potential landlords, Greer says the power dynamics in the market are clear.

“I saw a property in Inglewood and asked quite a few questions, as did you as a tenant,” she said. “And I don’t think the landlord liked that because I went through the application process, provided all my references, etc., and then she said, ‘I don’t think you’re the right fit.'”

“And so I thought, ‘Oh hurry up, I can’t ask any more questions.’ So the next place I saw I just thought, ‘Oh, it looks really good.'”

She also said rental asking prices tended to rise once she showed interest.

In particular, she recalled an experience with a rental in Marda Loop that was advertised for $2,450 a month, but when she inquired, the landlord said that was a mistake and the actual price was $2,550. She booked a show anyway, only to be told the price was now $2,700.

Martin, who is still looking for an alternative to her mobile home, says the market has become competitive to a degree she’s never seen in Calgary before, with so many people competing for so few rental properties.

“It’s bidding war for rent. It’s me against you,’ she said.

“I’ve had situations where I called landlords to investigate a property and they asked for a non-refundable fee to process my application — so paying between $200 and $400 to get a to submit an application.”

Rising cost of ownership too

Meanwhile, interest rates continue to rise, with the Bank of Canada raising its reference rate by another quarter point to 4.75 percent on Wednesday.

Rising mortgage rates have made buying a home more expensive, especially for first-time buyers, but also for many landlords who own investment properties.

Martin says the prospect of her family owning their own home now seems out of reach.

And as she continues to look for an alternative to their mobile home, she won’t be discouraged.

“It feels a little inhumane, to be honest,” she said.

“To be in a situation where I’m fighting as a renter to barely keep my head above water and then landlords basically have all the power… it really makes me feel trapped.”

Still, she counts herself lucky, considering what others around her have been through.

“I have friends who are single moms on welfare,” she said. “They’re barely making it as they are, and their landlord decided to double their rent or refuse to renew their lease so they could let a better paying tenant move in. And now they’re staying with relatives or in homeless shelters.”

“The more society turns away from these problems,” she added, “the worse it will get.”

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