Is Alberta following in southern Ontario's footsteps with rising rent, housing prices?
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Alberta is calling — but even before it was, Ontario's Bruno Sentone looked at the cost of living and took the bait.
The 33-year-old personal banker said he tried to make life in Ontario work. In 2020, he left Toronto's high rent prices and moved an hour north, to Barrie. But then eventually, rents went up there, too.
So last June, he packed his car and drove across the country to Calgary, where rent is cheaper, taxes are lower and his salary is higher.
"It's either that or biting the bullet in Barrie and going through the consequences of staying in a place that I know is unaffordable," said Sentone.
He isn't alone. Of the 50,000 people who left Ontario for Alberta or Atlantic Canada in the last 12 months, 20,000 of them chose the province in the prairies.
But less than a year after moving, as he watches housing and rent prices rise, Sentone is afraid Alberta is following in Ontario's footsteps and becoming less affordable by the day.
"Things are affordable now, and they might be for a little while, but if the influx of people just like myself keep coming in but we don't have enough properties being built or made available, then that's a problem."
Repeat of southern Ontario phenomenon
For new and old Albertans who are worried about the rising cost of living as record-high numbers of people move here, economist Mike Moffatt says they're right to be concerned.
He's also the senior director of the Smart Prosperity Institute, an Ottawa think tank looking at the economy.
"This is a phenomenon we've seen in southern Ontario for years," said Moffatt. "When families from Toronto started moving places like London, our housing prices tripled in less than 15 years."
He recalls a "musical chairs effect" where families from Toronto moved somewhere more affordable like Kitchener Waterloo, then as that city became more expensive, the people living there were displaced to somewhere further away — and so on.
That could all very well happen in Alberta, he says.
And the trend isn't going away anytime soon, says Moffatt. Especially since the Ontarians moving to Alberta are younger, chasing affordability and quality of life — not job growth in the oil and gas sector, as was seen in the past.
"Alberta will need to make sure that they build enough housing to support that population. We unfortunately didn't in southwestern Ontario, and that caused a lot of our current affordability challenges."
Calgary had fastest increasing rents
As the province continues its Alberta is Calling campaign, luring people from Ontario and Atlantic Canada to move here, the impact in Alberta is already being seen.
Paul Danison with Rentals.ca keeps track of rent prices in vacant units from Rentals.ca and Rentfaster.ca, and releases a report each month.
He found that Calgary had the fastest increasing rents, among condos and apartments, in the country in February.
"Average rents in Calgary rose 28.1 per cent annually and 3.8 per cent over the past three months to $1,862," the report said.
While that's still below the national average, Danison says it's a new problem in Calgary. He's been putting the reports together for nearly five years, and he says he's never seen rents so high here, or vacancy so low.
He says that's despite the fact that Calgary has been building record-high supply, and is expected to continue that trend.
"But it's still not enough for the demand," said Danison, in an interview with CBC.
It isn't just an issue in Calgary anymore. Lethbridge and Red Deer are also facing surprising year-over-year rent increases, he says — 20 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively, for a one-bedroom.
For Ontarians looking for affordability, with a major city lifestyle, Danison has two suggestions in the west: Edmonton and Winnipeg, where "it's cheap and rents are moderate compared to the other big cities."