A Rental Renaissance: Changes in the Rental Housing Stock at the Provincial, Regional, and Municipal Levels
Ryan Berlin
The Urban Futures Institute

While there has been significant media focus on the income dimensions published as part of the latest National Household Survey (NHS) release, much less attention has been given to the data on changes in our housing stock. In fact, the latest NHS data reveal a renaissance in British Columbia’s rental dwelling stock—a trend that warrants further unravelling and discussion.

In British Columbia as a whole, the number of occupied rental dwellings grew by 31,000 units between 2006 and 2011. This 6.3 percent growth in the rental stock contrasts the 3.6 percent decline seen in the preceding five years (2001-2006). Relative to other Canadian provinces, BC’s rental growth put it in the middle of the pack: Newfoundland saw the most rapid growth in rental accommodation (11.7 percent), while Manitoba sat at the other end of the spectrum with a 0.5 percent decline.

Of the 31,000 additional occupied rental units in BC, 87 percent were added in metropolitan regions. Rental accommodation in the Kelowna CMA grew by a whopping 17.2 percent and in the Victoria CMA by 4.4 percent. (Meanwhile the Abbotsford-Mission CMA’s rental stock declined by 1.8 percent.) The Vancouver CMA, with more rental units than any of BC’s other metropolitan regions, saw its rental stock grow by almost eight percent, faster than the provincial average.

In looking at other metropolitan regions in Canada, the rental renaissance also characterized the Calgary CMA, which saw a rather surprising 12.3 percent growth in its rental stock, Halifax (10.0 percent growth) and also Toronto (8.0 percent growth).

What serves to further put Vancouver’s rental growth into perspective is the fact that the 22,510 net new rental units added between 2006 and 2011 was the largest number of rental units added over a five-year period since 28,605 were added throughout the region between 1986 and 1991. Furthermore, the number of rental units added over the past five years was almost equal to the total number of rental units added over the preceding 15 years (1991-2006). The renaissance also comes on the heels of the 2001 to 2006 period, when the region shed 10,695 rental units, and 1996 to 2001, when only 14,420 units were added.

Interestingly, data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) show that between 2006 and 2011, the number of rental dwellings in privately-initiated structures with at least three units (commonly referred to as “purpose-built” rental units) declined by 410 units. This means that on a net basis all of the growth in rental units in the Vancouver CMA (and then some) was in the secondary market. In other words, without investor-owners and basement suites the region’s rental housing stock would have, at best, remained static between 2006 and 2011.  


Drilling down a bit further to municipalities within the Vancouver region reveals another surprise: Surrey accounted for the greatest proportion of net additional rental units across the region. At more than 8,705 additions, this part of the region represented 39 percent of the CMA’s growth in rental accommodation.

The City of Vancouver, for all of the concerns about investor-owners, added about half of what Surrey did, accounting for 20 percent of regional rental additions. The rest of the rental housing growth was sprinkled throughout the region, with Burnaby accounting for seven percent, Coquitlam six percent, Langley Township five percent, and Richmond, New Westminster, and Port Moody each with four percent. All other municipalities throughout the Vancouver CMA account for the remaining eleven percent.