Families forced to move as landlords profit from inflated property values.
Changes in the Oakville real estate market are forcing some residents to leave their homes and making it more difficult for them to find affordable housing.
At an ever-increasing pace, landlords are selling their rental properties. And their tenants are getting the boot in the process.
After a 15-year construction boom, Oakville is almost out of land. Voted number one on MoneySense‘s list of the 25 best places to live in Canada in 2018, the town is squeezing up against the borders of Mississauga, Milton and Burlington on three sides, and Lake Ontario at its foot.
With nowhere left to build, the rich and landless have turned their eye to downtown Kerr Village in Old Oakville, with its pretty, tree-lined 80-year-old streets dotted with 102 square-metre bungalows. They all sit on lots measuring, on average, 18 by 36 metres. New subdivisions lots by comparison average about eight by 27 metres, and the houses built there use up most of the acreage.
These tiny three-bedroom, one-bath houses sold for $250,000 just 10 years ago. Now they are listing for more than $1 million, even in tear-down condition. The buyers never live in them. Once they take possession, they bulldoze the original house and build a new, larger one.
Nowhere to go
The displacement of renters is a rarely-discussed repercussion of this neighbourhood rejuvenation. Kerr Village is home to the town’s lower-income residents, the budget grocery store, and the main food bank and church ministry for the needy. Some renters have lived there for more than 20 years, with their current rents averaging between $900 and $1,250 a month.
There are no available houses for rent in Oakville for less than $2,200 a month. The waiting list for low-income housing is 10 years-long.
Tenants are waking up to for-sale signs on their lawn and eviction notices in their mailbox. To move, they need a first- and last-month’s deposit of more than $4,000, then income for a rent increase of at least $800 a month.
These expenses are not affordable for a lot of downtown tenants. They are forced to move to apartments too small for their families or into buildings with sketchy reputations. Some leave town altogether, moving away from friends, family and schools.
The increases have left long-time residents such as Stephen Douglas scrambling to find new homes.
Douglas is a resident of Kerr Village, which surrounds Kerr Street, a main drag that has witnessed the opening of several themed cafes, organic restaurants with outdoor patios and artisian cheese/bread/olive oil shops over the last five years.
As the neighbourhood becomes more upscale and land values skyrocket, the temptation for landlords to sell their properties is too great. While the landlords profit, the standard of living for renters such as Douglas goes down.
“I’ve lived here for 27 years,” said Douglas, a self-employed painter and handyman. “My house is 900 square feet and it cost $800 a month back then. Now it’s $1,100. So two months ago my landlord says he’s selling all his houses and moving to Muskoka. So he’s going to have a few million dollars and a nice retirement, and I’ll be looking for a room to rent, I guess. You can’t even get an apartment for under $1,600, so it’s either rent a room, or share a place, and that’s not happening.”
Kerr Village is a lovely place to spend a Saturday afternoon – at least on the east side. The west side still has the remnants of the cheap apartments, bars, dilapidated variety stores and laundromats that were all Kerr Street offered 20 years ago. You didn’t go out alone after dark.
A walk down the residential streets reveals similar contrasts – 370 square-metre behemoths of glass and stone with manicured lawns sitting beside green clapboard bungalows shadowed darkly behind 100 year old pine trees and shrubbery that have never seen a landscaper. It’s a strange juxtaposition of old and new, and the old is slowly, relentlessly, being erased from existence.
Brian Gray, another long-time resident of Kerr Village and part-time painter, had to leave his rental house after it sold in 2016. Now he lives in a two-story rental. He occupies the main floor and two other tenants rent the upstairs and basement. He has developed severe arthritis and doesn’t work as much as he used to.
“When I left my first house I moved into a little place up the street, but it was a shithole. Then a year later another place came up down the street, so I moved again. My rent has gone from $650 to $1,136, but my hydro and heat is included this time.”
No plans to build
Town officials are divided between those who want to increase low-income housing and those who are pushing the new, tonier image of Oakville.
Municipal elections occur this month. Ray Chisholm, town councillor of Old Oakville (Ward 2), said in an interview with reporter David Lea of the Oakville Beaver that “the town council recently approved zoning changes to allow accessory dwellings within detached and semi-detached homes.” He said nothing about new apartment buildings with affordable rent.
Chisholm’s main challenger, Fraser Damoff, wants to build high-density residential dwellings near main transit hubs that will be more affordable for renters and also offer significantly reduced transportation costs.
And then there’s Gordon Bobesich, the third challenger for Ward 2.
“It is not possible for the town council to make Oakville a more affordable place,” Bobesich told the Beaver. “This is not in its mandate. No one has an absolute right to live in Oakville. If things are too expensive, then they should try another location.”
If your landlord is selling your home, click here to learn about your rights.