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Good luck finding an apartment in Hamilton
Vacancy rate lowest in over a decade

Hamilton Spectator - November 27, 2001, page B3
by Mark McNeil

Hamilton's rental vacancy rate is the lowest it's been in more than a decade - a sign that it's becoming extremely difficult to find affordable housing.

A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) survey in the Hamilton Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) found the level of available rental apartments fell to 1.3 per cent last month, down from 1.7 per cent in October 2000. Housing experts say a rate of about 3 per cent is a sign of a more balanced market.

Bob Wood, the executive director for the Housing Help Centre, says Hamilton has a serious lack of rental accommodation, especially for low-income earners.

"It's sure not getting any better and in some types of accommodation - like three-bedroom apartments - it's becomng almost impossible to find something affordable," says the director of the centre that helps low income earners find rental accomodation.

Twice a year the centre does its own survey by counting the number of ads for Hamilton apartments in The Spectator, and comparing them year to year. They found about half as many rental units advertised this year in The Spectator compared to a decade ago.

"Nothing has been built in almost a decade; a lot of housing has been lost and there are more people looking," said Wood. "The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is something we would consider unaffordable for low income people. So there is no housing unless you want to take a room over a hotel or a bar."

The annual CMHC Rental Market Survey, released yesterday, showed a steady decline in vacancy rates since 1997, when it was 3.2 per cent in Hamilton CMA. The survey considers all "privately initiated rental apartment structures with three or more units."

The Hamilton CMA includes Burlington apartments, Grimsby and Hamilton.

Rates varied. In the city of Hamilton, it fell to 1.6 per cent from 2.1 per cent. Burlington, Dundas and Stoney Creek all recorded rates below 1 per cent.

CMHC housing analyst Jim Koppang says there was increased demand for rental properties over the past year because more people have jobs. They were leaving home for the first time and renting because they hadn't saved enough for a house downpayment.

"Full-time employment in the Hamilton CMA increased by 7,900 jobs in the last 12 months. Secure employment increased demand for rental accommodation by new households."

While there are signs of fewer people with jobs, there has been substantial job growth the past year, he said.

Another factor in the vacany rate is a lack of houses available to renters wanting to buy their first home.

The Hamilton CMA has 41,868 apartments, and 544 were vacant in October, when the survey ended.

Lower vacancies, Koppang said, have also made it possible for rents to increase by more than the rate of inflation. In the year up to October, the average rent in the Hamilton area rose 3.3 per cent to $677. Rent hikes ranged from a drop of 1.5 per cent for bachelor apartments to a 5.7 per cent jump for units with three or more bedrooms.

The new Tenant Protection Act abolished rent controls in 1998 and landlords can now raise rents annually for existing tenants and charge whatever the market will bear for new ones. Wood says that's encouraging people to stay longer in locations where rent increases are more moderate.

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