UW study highlights shortfall in local family rental options
WATERLOO — The rental market in Kitchener and Waterloo would benefit from offering more family friendly options, a new University of Waterloo report suggests.
The report found there is likely an unmet need in the region’s housing market, particularly for affordable, larger units with access to open space.
“There is a demand for larger rental units across all demographic groups,” said Dawn Parker, a UW planning professor and author of the report.
The report, compiled by Parker and Waterloo graduate student Xinyue Pi, analyzed survey responses from households renting in Kitchener-Waterloo and collected their views on preferred location, rental experience and on the upcoming light rail transit system.
Along with asking about what people are currently renting, “we also asked them what their ideal rental type would be,” Parker said.
For families, there was a strong discrepancy between where they were living and what kind of housing they’d prefer to call home.
The report also found renters may be willing to pay a premium for three or four-bedroom townhomes near the downtown as well as mid-density housing options outside the core, if sufficient amenities are nearby.
Parker said real estate agents are also concerned about this “missing middle” in the rental market, which are three or four-bedroom homes with access to open space. It could be a townhouse, row house or apartment. “It’s that compromise,” Parker said. Deb Schlichter, director of housing services for the Region of Waterloo, said there is concern around the low supply of larger rental units.
“That is something we noticed ourselves when we had the Syrian family influx,” she said.
When thousands of Syrian refugees resettled in the region starting in fall 2015, it was difficult to find larger units to accommodate their families.
“They were squeezing into smaller units,” Schlichter said.
She said even though families could afford rent for larger units, those units were tough to find. Child tax benefits from the federal and provincial governments helps with affordability.
Over recent decades, family sizes here have gotten smaller. But that is changing with the growing immigrant population. That shift might spur developers to rethink the size of new units being created.
“The private market needs to address that issue by building more of them,” Schlichter said.
For families in need of community housing priced below market, she said, “that’s a bit trickier,” Schlichter said.
Both one-bedroom and larger units are in shorter supply and the region aims to address that through their requests for proposals for affordable housing. The YWCA is currently building four-bedroom rental units in Waterloo.
“We’re trying to respond a little bit to that gap,” Schlichter said.
Parker said the study also got interesting results around people’s thoughts on the Ion service, slated to start running next spring.
“The No. 1 use was social activities,” she said.
But interest in living near to public transit varied, depending on the demographic.
“Students really want to be close to transit,” Parker said. “Seniors do not.”
Students, the study found, were paying a 10 per cent premium for their housing and housing along the light rail corridor was 7.5 per cent more expensive than comparable housings away from the service.
People who rent also seem content to live in neighbourhoods with diversity in income, education and ethnicity.
“Renters did not express a strong preference to be surrounded by people like them,” Parker said.