A bad situation for local apartment hunters just got worse, according to a new rental-market survey by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
The federal housing agency said Winnipeg's already record-low average apartment vacancy rate has dropped even lower, to 0.7 per cent in April from 0.8 per cent last October and one per cent a year ago.
And it's the same story with Manitoba's average vacancy rate, which also has fallen to 0.7 per cent -- the lowest provincial rate in the country -- from one per cent in both October and April of last year. That compares to a national average vacancy rate of 2.9 per cent.
Winnipegger Sheila Kline is finding out just how tough it is to find an apartment these days. The single mother of two has been searching for more than a month for a three-bedroom unit in Transcona, where her children go to school. But so far, no luck.
Kline thought she'd found one last week when an ad appeared on a website. But when she called, she was told it had already been snapped up.
So she and her friends continue scanning websites and newspapers ads and biking around Transcona looking for signs on lawns or in windows.
Although hundreds of new apartments have been built in the city in the last few years -- 448 in the past year, with another 595 still under construction -- a CMHC official said demand is still outpacing supply.
Lai Sing Louie, the agency's regional economist for the Prairies and Territories, attributed the rise in demand in part to an influx of new immigrants and rising employment and incomes.
He said a record 15,805 international immigrants arrived in the province last year, with almost three-quarters of them settling in Winnipeg. And many of them rent for the first few years, he said.
A recent trend toward converting apartment blocks to condominiums has also reduced the supply of rental units. Although the April survey didn't track conversions, a similar survey done last fall found 356 of the 835 rental units that disappeared from the market in the previous year were condo conversions.
To further compound renters' woes, rents are also climbing at one of the faster rates in the country, CMHC found. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Winnipeg Census Metropolitan Area increased by 3.2 per cent to $843 between April of last year and April of this year. And the average rent for a one-bedroom unit climbed by three per cent to $657.
Although the provincial rent control guideline for this year is 1.5 per cent, Louie said newly built apartments and suites that have recently undergone extensive renovations are exempt. That's why the average increases have been greater than 1.5 per cent.
Spokesmen for two local property-management companies confirmed their firms are renovating more suites these days. Some buildings are at an age where major upgrades are required, said a spokesman for J.C. Property Management, which manages five buildings with a total of 180 units. And with vacancy rates so low and demand so high, landlords are confident they can do the upgrades, raise the rent and still fill their buildings, said Grant Stevenson, vice-president of A.S.H. Management Inc,, which is renovating about 250 units this year.
Stevenson said A.S.H. has a 75-unit building that was recently renovated. Although rents rose by $300 a month, all but 18 or 19 of the suites have been leased since they came back onto the market in March.
Things are tough all over
Here are the average vacancy rates (%) for Winnipeg and four other Manitoba urban centres with populations of 10,000 or more:
April 2010 April 2011
Winnipeg 1.0 0.7
Brandon 0.2 1.3
Portage la Prairie 10.5 2.5
Steinbach 1.2 0.8
Thompson 0.3 0.5
Manitoba 1.0 0.7
-- source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.