While rents in Toronto aren’t quite back to their pre-pandemic levels, the cost to rent a home in several GTA suburbs and peripheral cities has soared beyond early 2019 rates, rentals.ca data shows — with dramatic increases in places such as Cambridge, Kitchener and Hamilton.
In those three cities, between the first four months of 2019 and the same period in 2022, the average rental listing price rose 54 per cent, 44 per cent and 42 per cent respectively — jumps many who work in the housing sphere say adds to the struggles residents face in finding affordable homes.
“It’s hot competition for any place that’s up for rent,” says York Region community legal clinic director Benjamin Ries.
In Richmond Hill, the average was up 15 per cent; in Newmarket, it went up 29 per cent.
Some cities closer to Toronto are still seeing slightly lower asking rents than before. Vaughan is among the areas below its 2019 rate, alongside Brampton, Markham and Mississauga.
Ben Myers, the Bullpen Research and Consulting president who crunches the data for rentals.ca, cautions the numbers for markets with less rental supply can be easily swayed if even one new building with more expensive rents suddenly entered the scene. The average was also affected by the size and type of rental units available at any one time.
But overall, he believes the data paints a picture of the growing rental demand on the edges of the GTA and beyond, noting increasing options around remote work and deteriorating affordability in the Toronto area, which may push people further out.
In the old city of Toronto, an area that includes the downtown core, the average listing in early 2022 hit $2,330 a month — five per cent below where the market was in the early months of 2019.
Although Myers expects more people to soon return to the city’s downtown core — raising prices there — he sees the pandemic as having placed increased pressure on the housing markets of the suburbs and cities beyond.
“I think there’s a significant portion of people that have done the downtown thing — they’ve done the Bay Street and the tower stuff. And they say, ‘Hey, I want a change.’ ”
Richmond Hill and Newmarket
North of Toronto, in Richmond Hill, listed rents are up 15 per cent from early 2019 — from $2,273 to $2,624; while prices in Newmarket, farther north, are up 29 per cent, from $1,860 to $2,400.
In those areas, Myers said a lot of the new rentals are in newly built towers — which often come with more amenities and a high price tag.
That would be a shift from what Ries describes as the region’s typical rental stock, where many tenants live. “They’re renting in portions of houses, in basements, in condos, in townhouses,” he explained.
As home prices “exploded,” Ries said those smaller properties were rapidly changing ownership — leading to eviction notices for some tenants whose new landlord said they wanted the property for their own use. Those tenants were then thrust into a market that was not only more expensive, but increasingly competitive.
Competition was heightened as better-off renters were unable to move up into the ownership market, Ries said. The region also saw an influx of new residents — including a “steady flow” of people moving outward from Toronto, and “looking to save just a little bit of money.”
In Hamilton in early 2019, the average listing cost $1,349 a month. Earlier this year, the average cost was $1,914.
That’s a 42 per cent jump, and its one legal clinic worker Mohamed Bsat has felt first-hand. He moved to Hamilton from Toronto in 2018, and found a one-bedroom for $1,495. When Bsat looked to move recently, the most affordable one-bedroom he could find cost $1,850.
“It’s changed tremendously,” Bsat said of the local rental scene.
Myers believes Hamilton rents have been influenced by colliding factors — some people flocked there with hopes of finding less expensive housing than in Toronto; new employment opportunities came on board; and rental and condominium projects were developed.
Many of the new condos were snapped up by investors, Myers said, who then leased them out for higher prices than other local rentals.
Bsat believes interest in Hamilton was “amplified” by the pandemic, as some Torontonians left in search of more space. He worries about low-income renters facing today’s market, including those who may have been displaced by eviction.
“They have nowhere to go.”
Vaughan and Mississauga
These two cities, which border Toronto, are among those where the average listing hasn’t yet returned to costs seen in 2019.
Vaughan is down nine per cent and Mississauga three per cent, with the average listing at $2,260 and $2,137 per month respectively.
Daniel Amsler, a paralegal with Mississauga Community Legal Services, said despite the slight reprieve on paper, he’s seen tenants in Mississauga increasingly struggling to find affordable homes over the last few years. New units have been coming online, he said, but any built since late 2018 are exempt from rent control protections.
Myers, too, pointed to new supply — pointing to condo developments at the Vaughan Corporate Centre and Mississauga City Centre, which he said were attractive to investors, who then rented the units out.
But Amsler noted those homes could be prohibitively expensive.
In Vaughan, Ries believes older rental apartments may still be bringing their asking rents up, after offering discounts during the pandemic.
“If there was a growth in vacancy, and a drop in rents anywhere, it was in the older purpose-built rental buildings,” Ries said.
Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge
In Cambridge, asking rents jumped a whopping 54 per cent between early 2019 and the same period in 2022, recently reaching an average of $2,230 a month. The increase was followed closely behind by Kitchener, with a 44 per cent increase to $1,845. Nearby Waterloo saw a nine per cent jump, to $1,461 a month.
Ryan Mounsey, Waterloo Region’s manager of affordable housing development, says the numbers correspond with vacancy rates — in 2021, Waterloo had a 2.3 per cent vacancy rate, compared with two per cent in Kitchener and 1.1 per cent in Cambridge, he said.
Like other areas, Myers believes prices in these three cities were affected by people searching for cheaper living than in the GTA. “It’s one hour away, there’s a tech boom happening in Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge is essentially right beside it,” Myers said.
But with rapid growth comes affordability challenges, especially for low-to-moderate-income households, Mounsey says. “There is a housing crisis.”
Waterloo Region also saw local households priced out of home ownership as real estate prices climbed, which kept them in the rental market. Other factors included increased interest from corporate real estate investors, he said, and pressure from growing student populations.
New supply took time, Mounsey said — and didn’t come cheap. “Anything new is going to be expensive.”
Oshawa, Ajax and Pickering
Asking rents in Oshawa are up 16 per cent from early 2019, the rentals.ca data shows. Three years ago, the average listing was $1,581. In early 2022, that hit $1,837. In nearby Pickering, the average listing price held relatively steady over three years.
In Ajax, however, the data shows the average asking price has steadily declined, down 11 per cent from $2,126 in early 2019 to $1,891 this year.
Myers said the decline was likely influenced by how few rentals exist in Ajax — not an actual price decrease. “When you have a market as small as Ajax, where there’s very, very little supply, you can have this kind of volatility,” Myers said.
He offered the example of Ajax’s Pat Bayly Square, where new rental towers have been built in the last few years. If a flurry of units from one of those buildings were listed at once, he said, it could easily sway the average price. Once those buildings initially filled up, there may be a handful of listings at any time instead of dozens — meaning the average listing price dropped.
At 73 Bayly St, one-bedroom units are listed at a starting cost of $1,600, with two bedrooms starting at $1,825. It’s a contrast, Myers said, with some of the more traditional Ajax rental housing stock — cheaper, older units, basement apartments and low-rises from the 1960s.
Patrick Gillespie, executive director of the Durham Community Legal Clinic, said his team has seen a “steady decline” in tenants’ ability to secure adequate, affordable housing across the region, without having to battle with other applicants and offer extra rent to win a unit.
He worries, especially, about those with the fewest means.
“There exists a real risk of ultimately having more marginalized community members fall victim to homelessness,” he said.
Victoria Gibson is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering affordable housing. Reach her via email: email@example.com