As rents rise, Abbotsford families face hard decisions

The average rent in Central Fraser Valley rose 7.9 per cent last year, according to new report

Renters are paying considerably more than ever before, a new report shows. And even those fortunate enough to have annual rent increases locked in at affordable rates are finding their lives and families impacted by the ongoing housing crunch.

The average rental home now costs $924 in Abbotsford and Mission, an increase of 7.9 per cent over the previous year, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s annual rental report. That’s one of the largest increases in the province, and well above the maximum allowable year-over-year rent increase for continuing tenants. The increasing rates cap a three-year span over which average rates have increased, on average, by $130 per month, or around 17 per cent.

But because those rates also include increases on existing tenants, they may understate just how quickly rental costs for vacant units have increased. On the News’ Facebook site, for instance, Logan Pelletier wrote that the same two-bedroom basement suite he rented for $650 eight years ago – and later moved out of – now goes for $1,200.

The result is that any renter looking to pick up stakes and move to another home faces the prospect of a massive increase in their cost of living. For some, the finances involved mean changing major life plans.

Cheryl, who didn’t want her last name used, lives with her husband and two-year-old child in an aging Abbotsford apartment. The rent is $823 and increases around $30 a year. Incoming tenants, meanwhile, pay $1,200. A bigger place, or a nicer place, would cost $1,500 or more – a fact that is top of mind when friends ask whether her daughter will get a sibling.

“People keep say, ‘You guys have to have a second one!’” she said. “We say we can’t.”

Cheryl figures she and her family will likely be living in the apartment for the long term – and she can’t imagine how they would fit a second child into the space.

“We’re probably going to be stuck here for life.”

The increasing rental rates have come amid a broad housing crunch that saw the joint census metropolitan area’s vacancy rate dip to just 0.2 per cent last year.

According to the CMHC report, Abbotsford’s vacancy rate improved to one per cent. But there may be at least some relief coming.

The same month the CMHC survey was completed, 147 new rental units were completed. They don’t appear to have been included in this month’s report, which stated that fewer than 100 units had been added to Abbotsford’s supply of rental housing over the previous year.

Indeed, the number of rental units that have been completed over the last 12 months is now at a 25-year-high. It’s possible those new apartments haven’t been on the market long enough to have been counted and included in the rental report. If that’s the case, the vacancy rate may be higher than the one per cent reported.

Another 500 rental apartment units are still under construction. When they are ready to welcome new tenants, they will boost the total number of places to rent by more than 10 per cent.

But whether that will hold rents in check remains to be seen.

Recent construction is still trying to catch up with what amounted to a lost two decades in the building of rental housing.

Between 1994 and 2013, Abbotsford added some 17,000 new housing units. Just 1,000 of those were rentals.

RELATED: Vacancies remain low as rents rise in B.C.

LAST YEAR: Abbotsford and Mission have nation’s tightest rental market: report

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