Vacancy in Calgary’s rental market increased from 1.4 per cent in 2014 to 5.3 per in 2015, leading Altus Group to place the city in the “soft” category. CREB®Now file photo.

Calgary is in a “rental crisis,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi confirms, as he called on the provincial and federal governments “to use the levers they have available to them to encourage more construction of rental projects.”

With a vacancy rate that Nenshi said is “likely close to zero,” securing a place to live is proving to be a difficult task for many renters in the city.

Although he said Attainable Homes efforts have helped middle-income Calgarians buy their first home, thereby opening up rental spaces for others, “When it comes down to it, we still need to create thousands of new rental properties for our fellow Calgarians.”

Brittany Walker is one Calgarian who was lucky enough to secure an apartment in the tight rental market. Having made the decision to move in with her boyfriend after her lease expired, Walker said finding a suitable apartment was a difficult experience.

“We heard that the rental market in Calgary was less than a five per cent occupancy rate so we knew once we started to look we were in for quite the battle,” said Walker.

Walker said she often showed up to find the unit had already been rented and for prices that were far beyond what the couple had budgeted for.

“When we were looking we viewed multiple apartments in the Beltline, Kensington and Mission areas and either the place was way over priced or the apartment was already taken by the first person who showed up with a cheque in hand.”

While an official count on just how tight Calgary’s rental sector hasn’t been taken since the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) released their last rental report, which listed the city’s vacancy rate at 1.2 per cent, senior market analyst Richard Cho is predicting things will only get tougher for Calgary renters.

“We are forecasting the vacancy rate to average 1.0 per cent in October 2013, down from 1.3 per cent in October 2012,” said Cho.

As of April, CMHC put the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the city at $1,150, although Cho said that number is likely to rise when the organization’s next report is released in December. According to, the average rent for an apartment in the city sits at $1,445, which climbs to $1,936 when all types of rental accommodation are included.

Walker would eventually spend more than two months looking for an apartment before finding one they could afford, and were left with little time to decide if it was the right one.

“We actually got really lucky and were able to find a place in Mission,” said Walker. “I’m not sure if it was luck or timing due to the recent flood that deferred people from looking in the area but we definitely had to make a quick decision and signed a lease the same day.”

Others haven’t been as fortunate. Having recently welcomed the addition of a growing baby boy to her family, Tara Scaglione said the list of suitable places to rent is even tougher for those with children or pets.

With a dog, cat and one-year-old son added to her list of would-be tenants, Tara Scaglione has been unable to find a place to rent.

“My little guy just turned one and now that he’s walking, it’s becoming all too apparent that we need a bigger place to live,” said Scaglione. “Since I have a dog and a cat, I’m having a difficult time. Some places will accept dogs, some will accept cats, but the rare place that accepts both is either too expensive or in a shady neighbourhood. Even without the pets, finding an affordable place to rent as a single mother is next to impossible.”

Further highlighting the lack of available rental space in the city has been the ongoing fight over secondary suites at City Hall. Seen by many as a possible solution to the city’s rental woes, Nenshi’s goal of citywide approval of the suites during his first campaign has yet to be realized, while mayoral challenger Jon Lord has said that a 2011 vote from council allowing the suites in new neighbourhoods goes far enough.

Nenshi says secondary suites are one piece of a complex puzzle.

“Like most solutions to complex issues, there are a number of things we can do to open up the rental market,” he told CREB®Now. “Certainly, part of the solution is zoning to allow safe and legal secondary suites in every residential neighbourhood across Calgary — like any other major city in Canada.”

The mayor also pointed to the benefits of red tape reduction at City Hall.

“I’m pleased that, for the first time in decades, we now have new rental buildings being built that will equal hundreds of new homes.

“That happens because there’s a strong market demand and the City made it easier to build those projects by cutting red tape.”