UW study high­lights short­fall in lo­cal fam­ily ren­tal op­tions

Waterloo Region Record - - LOCAL - Jo­hanna Wei­d­ner, Record staff jwei­d­ner@there­cord.com, Twit­ter: @Wei­d­nerRecord

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.

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