Woolwich & Wellesley Township's Local Community Newspaper | Elmira, Ontario, Canada
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Low vacancy rates, high rents symptom of housing crisis

Earlier this month a rental ad for a plain two-bedroom unit in a five-plex townhouse was posted on the Township of Woolwich Buy and Sell Facebook group. The cost was $2,400 per month, plus utilities. Applicants needed to provide first and last months’ rent to hold, stated the ad.

At time of printing, the post had received 25 comments.

“Wow, twice the cost of our current mortgage!” said one commenter.

“Better come with a butler for that price,” said another.

“Crazy price. Unaffordable for so many who are struggling,” said another.

The person who posted the ad refused to comment for the article.

Waterloo Region is facing a housing crisis, with limited availability and skyrocketing prices. Elmira is no exception.

In 2020 the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF) released a report on the state of housing in the region.

The organization found the median price of a house relative to median household income for the region has increased from three times in 2005 to an estimated 8.6 times in 2021. This is more expensive than in the New York metropolitan area, which is 5.9 times greater, and on par with Greater London in the United Kingdom.

The price of rent in the region has increased in-step with the price of real estate. The monthly cost of renting a bachelor apartment in the region has increased by 122 per cent between 2008 and 2020, which is almost double the increase found in the rest of the markets across the country, the report found.

“The Vital Signs report provides a grim visual of Waterloo Region’s housing crisis, including a lack of housing that’s affordable for the average income earner, and an increase in demand but not enough housing supply. The region’s population is growing, but the supply isn’t keeping up,” said KWCF CEO Elizabeth Heald in an email.

“There are more part-time, contract jobs available than full-time employment. The average household income has only increased by 1.6 per cent. Black, Indigenous and Racialized communities are more likely to spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent, and are more likely to be living in crowded spaces,” she said.

Jamie Passmore is a single mother of three who has been looking for a place to rent in Elmira for months. She and her kids are staying with friends in the town.

“If it’s possible, I’d like to find either a semi detached or a two bedroom, three bedroom. Something that has possibly a yard for the kids. That’s a big one.  It doesn’t need to be that big, but I’d really like to have a yard for the kids,” said Passmore.

When she started her search, Passmore was hoping to spend around $1,800 a month on housing, but found that to be unrealistic.

“You can’t find a three-bedroom house under $2,000. I mean, you’re looking at more like $2,500. You’re lucky if you can find a two bedroom under $2,000.”

A search for Elmira apartments on Kijiji.ca brought up four results including listings like $1,575 for a one-bedroom apartment, and $1,600 for a two-bedroom. No houses or townhouses for rent showed up in the search.

“I love Elmira. I just like this small town,” said Passmore. “I don’t have a vehicle, so for me it’s a lot easier because everything is in walking distance. I like that there’s good parks for the kids and I just like that it’s quiet and small.”

Passmore has also heard rumors of bidding wars for rental units, which she finds very stressful.

“My hope was to stay here in Elmira or north Waterloo just because that’s where my church is and where a lot of my friends are. But it’s starting to kind of look like that’s not really going be – I don’t know,  if it will be branching out into Kitchener or somewhere or having to look a bit farther.”

Between 2015 and 2020, Waterloo region was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country, according to the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation’s housing report. New builds have not kept pace with the population growth, and there have been few rental builds, the report found.

The report also found the quality of jobs in the region is declining. Between 2006 to 2019, temporary jobs grew 2.6 times faster than full time, self employment grew 2.4 times faster and part time jobs grew 1.9 times faster than full time jobs.

In 2020, there were more than 6,000 people on the region’s waitlist for affordable housing.

“If we aren’t able to meet the demand, we will continue to observe a rise in evictions and homelessness, social and physical displacement of communities, and a rise in mental health issues and food insecurities, among other concerns,” said Heald.

Solutions she suggests include investment in affordable builds, making affordable housing the highest priority in the region, diversifying the type of housing that is being built, prioritizing reconciliation since more builds will mean more land development, advocacy for inclusionary zoning which sets affordable housing requirements for new builds. Home owners can also consider building tiny homes or adding in-law suites to their homes which the region and cities allow. There is also funding available to help renovate for affordable units, as well as home sharing and incentives for landlords to keep rent stable.

“To people who do have housing and who are renting (out), it’s not always just about how much money you can get, but it’s good to have good people in your housing,” said Passmore. 

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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