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Sky-high rental prices create 'infuriating' situation for many Barrie residents looking for housing

City of Barrie has the fourth highest rental rates in Canada — below only Vancouver, Toronto and Burnaby

Moving is considered to be one of the most stressful things in life to do, but add a lack of rental inventory and skyrocketing rental rates, it can be downright disheartening.

According to Padmappers' recently released Canadian rent report, which analyzes rental data from across the country, the City of Barrie has the fourth highest rental rates in Canada. It notes an average one-bedroom apartment in the city rents for $1,650 per month  below only Vancouver, Toronto and Burnaby.

This information comes as no surprise to many Barrie residents who often find themselves struggling to find a suitable place to live or priced out of the rental market all together. 

On the move

Tammy Reyes Avila and her partner are currently on the hunt for a new place to live. The Barrie resident currently lives in a three-plus bedroom home with her 69-year-old mother and her three children, and has been paying more than $1,900 in rent per month. Her partner pays $1,350 for a three-bedroom basement apartment.

“We’ve recently decided we would like to move in together and blend our families,” she says.

They made the decision when both their current landlords informed them they were considering selling in the spring.

“We decided to start looking for a place now so that when our homes do list and sell, we will not be homeless," she says. 

Their journey to find a home has been impossible, Reyes Avila admits. Despite their combined incomes, plus contributions from both her mother and eldest son, she says potential landlords don't feel they have enough income to carry the cost of a house at $2,800 per month.

While Reyes Avila acknowledges her credit score is a work in progress, her partner’s is not, and both he and her son have full-time jobs at Honda. She is currently a full-time college student. While in school, Reyes Avila receives Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) funding and grants, works part-time as a personal support worker (PSW) and also collects child support for her two younger children, as well as various other government supplements, such as the child tax credit, Trillium benefit and GST. 

“In total, we all clear about $10,667 per month and that is not including my OSAP income,” she explains. “If I divide that by 12, after taking off tuition and book expenses, it equals approximately $2,125 more per month (than we’d need).”

Despite that, Reyes Avila says landlords haven’t been giving them a second look.

“As soon as they see we have had financial difficulties, they overlook us. They don’t take into consideration that our rent has been paid on time, if not early, for the past five years. Our bills have all been paid on time, and we hold tenant insurance and insurance on our water heater and furnace,” she says. “We are clean, non-smokers, non-drinkers and we maintain our property's exterior.”

Getting priced out

On top of being overlooked, Reyes Avila says they are being forced to look at homes that cost upwards of $3,000.  

“How are we supposed to maintain rents at this rate, save for our kids, or for a house of our own? How is my mother ever going to retire? And how is my 25-year-old son ever going to move out into his own place when rent is astronomically high?” she asks.

“We can’t move farther away as I need my younger children to be close enough for their father to have continued access, and my boyfriend cannot move away because he wants to be close for his children as well.”

During their recent search, Reyes Avila says they lost out on a potential rental after a competitor offered one year of rent up front.

“We began to offer six months rent up front, but we also know that this is an illegal practice. We just have no idea how we will stand out from our competitors and have a (landlord) take a chance on us,” she says.

“I fear that when our houses do go up for sale in the spring our families will end up homeless," Reyes Avila adds. "My boyfriend may be able to move in with family, but I am already living with family and have nowhere else to go. If I end up homeless, I will lose custody of my children. We can't even get approved for a rental unit so even if we had to temporarily crowd into a smaller house, this could not be an option. It is a terrifying thought.”

No place to call home

Ashleigh Melnyk has owned three homes in her lifetime, but recently has found herself in a position she’d never expected  renting a bedroom in someone else’s house.

“I’m 40 and a working professional. It’s really humbling, needless to say. The rent in Barrie is way out of control,” she says, noting despite having a full-time job, she can’t afford to pay rent, a car loan and insurance while also having enough to cover the basic needs of day-to-day life.

“My daughter is in university and I’ve not even been able to help her out, which really breaks my heart," Melnyk adds. "I have tried to be an example to my daughter about what strong independent women can do, but now I feel like a complete failure. I can’t even afford a safe home for her right now.”  

This issue also hits close to home for Cindy Tonn, having watched her own son struggle to find a place to live in the city. 

“I’m the mom of a 20-year-old on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) who will never be able to afford rent in this city unless his name comes up for accessible housing,” she says. “It’s very common for young adults with disabilities who could live alone with minimal support to not get that opportunity unless they are willing to leave Barrie.”

Caught in the middle

With rent prices so high, even those who are considered “middle-income” earners are struggling to keep their heads above water.

On paper, Krystle Wren-De Cunha looks like she’d make the perfect tenant  a great job as an educational assistant for the Simcoe County District School Board with a good salary. Despite that, she has found herself living back at home after a break-up because she can’t afford to live on her own.

“The apartment I left two years ago was listed at $1,250 plus hydro (for) a one bedroom, one-and-a-half bath. I was paying $1,150 three and a half years ago when we moved in. The landlord currently listed this apartment a couple weeks ago at $1,400 plus hydro... for a basement apartment!” 

Krystalle Dickson found herself in a similar boat when she returned to home Barrie after teaching overseas. Having grown up in the city, the mother of one wanted to stay in the area and says she was shocked to learn how high rent was for even a one-bedroom.

“I don't mind paying to rent, but I cannot stand paying $2,000 for the top floor of a house, never knowing who is renting below you," she says. 

Dickson works as a teacher yet says she still struggled to find appropriate and affordable housing for her and her daughter.

“There needs to be a focus on the middle income earners. We are so close to living paycheque to paycheque because we don't qualify for subsidized housing or subsidized child care. These things go hand in hand,” she says, adding having more co-op options for people who are steps above qualifying for subsidized housing would also go a long way.

The other alternative would be having better access to government sponsored loans for first-time home buyers who can afford a mortgage, but struggle coming up with a down payment because 50 per cent of their earnings go to pay rent  leaving them unable to accumulate a savings. 

Currently in Barrie, a standard two-bedroom apartment is renting for approximately $2,000. Given financial advisors are always telling Canadians not to spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent, this would equate to one of Dickson’s two monthly take home paycheques. 

“I also need to pay full price for child care because there is a subsidy freeze on child care. This $800 would make a dent in a two-bedroom, but barely. Not to mention, those in the same position as me also probably have car loans, students loans, etc. We are sadly caught in the rent trap and have no alternative.”

Competing for a place to live

Amber Ethien and her family have had major struggles finding a place to live in and around Barrie since leaving their last rental in June 2019 to live in their RV full time and travel North America.  

At the time, Ethien, her husband and her nine children  ranging in age from newborn to 18 — lived in a six-bedroom, 2,700-square-foot house and paid $1,900 per month in rent.

“We travelled in our RV for months and in March 2020 we were in Florida when we were called back.”

Having young children with them and snow and frost still being an issue back in Ontario they ended up finding a temporary Airbnb to come back to and began looking for a rental immediately. They found several suitable options, but Ethien says were turned away for the amount of children they have.  

“Every rental we looked at had many applicants and we had landlords telling us that applicants were offering to pay above asking and a year in advance.”

By June, the couple still had not found anything despite offering to pay more and pay months in advance. Since RV parks had reopened, the family moved to a local RV park while they continued the search. 

“We got in touch with Barrie Housing and were told the waiting list is very long at the moment," Ethien says. "She told me that they had applications coming in from people trying to leave Toronto.” 

With the summer quickly coming to an end and the RV park due to close in October  along with expecting baby number 10 in December, they were definitely feeling the crunch.

“We viewed multiple properties, applied to even more," she says. "We worked through property management companies, but there are more people searching for rentals then there are available properties.”

As if things couldn’t get worse, the family’s RV caught fire at the end of September and the couple was forced to live in a hotel with their children while they searched for a more permanent and cost-effective solution.

“Staying in a hotel was costing $4,000 a month and my wallet was stolen while there… cash, nine health cards, driver's licence, children’s past birthday gift cards… all of it.”

After months of searching Ethien and her husband found a three-bedroom townhouse in Barrie’s east end listed for $1,850. They applied immediately and the family moved in on Nov. 1, 2020, just two months before baby number 10 was born.

“We are a family of 11 living in a small, three-bedroom townhouse. This house is dated and not the greatest maintained, but we have a home.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, she says, has made renting in Barrie nearly impossible.

“We are at a point where people are wanting to take advantage of the great need for housing. It’s infuriating and saddening. Everybody talks about the jerks who buy up the Clorox wipes and sell them at a profit, but there are a ton of landlords raising the price of their rentals simply because the need and want is there,” she says.

“It’s funny and ironic because my husband works for Community Builders, a non-profit construction company trying to tackle homelessness in Barrie and area. His boss told him when we were living in the hotel back in October how ironic it was that we were essentially homeless. Just a few years ago, I remember thinking these townhouses being rented for $1,600 was crazy... Now, I would love that.”




About the Author: Nikki Cole

Nikki Cole has been a community issues reporter for BarrieToday since February, 2021
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