Martine August is an expert on the financialization of housing markets. I would remark only that where there is no vacancy control policy (and that is all of Canada, except Manitoba and P.E.I.), non-corporate landlords are as voracious as any corporate ones.
In January 2021, the CMHC finally began to report the difference between average rents for vacant rental units and occupied ones. In Vancouver, for instance, “prospective tenants face higher rents than longer-term tenants, with the average asking rent for vacant units being 21.4 per cent higher than the average rent paid for occupied units.” In Victoria, the report says, “the gap between asking rent for vacant units and occupied units has climbed from $39 to $356 in the past 6 years.” This calls for math. The average rent paid for occupied units was $1,275, meaning that the average rent for vacant units was $1,631, or 28.1 per cent higher.
Make no mistake, it’s provincial governments that refuse to implement vacancy control (or vacancy decontrol, as it’s sometimes called). And it’s the federal government that lets them get away with it. Green MP Paul Manly, for one, has pointed out that the feds could “create and tie national standards to dedicated housing fund transfers to the provinces, in order to ensure that the provinces properly protect renters and the housing rental market.”
Rather than doing this – and simultaneously upholding their own legislation on housing as a human right – the federal government allows housing to be treated solely as an economic plank: as an engine for small or large business, as an engine for income and profit. Renters are thereby sacrificed to economic imperatives. They are collateral damage as the property class slashes and crashes its way through the jungle.
As bad as that is, it gets worse. When the B.C. Rental Housing Task Force refused in 2018 to recommend the adoption of vacancy control, advocates for tenant rights and poverty alleviation emphasized that in addition to unaffordable rents, a lack of vacancy control leads to increased poverty, evictions, homelessness, public investment in rental housing and renters’ subsidies unfairly filtering through to unregulated landlords, and community upheaval.
Such upheaval extends far beyond messy streets and stretched emergency services, all the way to the business community and the labour market. Numerous business and labour groups have noted (here and here) that affordable housing is an absolute requirement for being able to attract new businesses and new workers to the community and to support and retain the ones already in place. In its submission to the B.C. Rental Housing Task Force, the B.C. Government Employees Union called for vacancy control as a required measure to improve affordability for workers.
What advocates at the Together Against Poverty Society said in response to the inaction of the Task Force in 2018 is no less true today: “Vacancy control is the most pressing policy need of our time.”