Questions raised over rental subsidies
Okotoks: Province defends use of CMHC report
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Thursday, Jan 10, 2013 01:03 pm
Data being used to set earning limits for rental subsidies in Okotoks is inaccurate according to local housing officials who say changes are needed.
The Provincial government uses rental market data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to help determine whether someone can qualify for a rental subsidy in Okotoks.
Foothills Foundation CAO Lauren Ingalls said CMHC’s fall 2012 rental market report doesn’t accurately reflect the realities in Okotoks because the organization only looked at 112 apartments for its survey. It did not look at properties such as houses, condos or basement suites being rented out.
Ingalls is calling on the provincial government to review how income levels needed to qualify for rental support are set.
“I think that Alberta Municipal Affairs needs to investigate the core needs income threshold for Okotoks because the data that’s being collected does not reflect the market circumstances that are occurring,” she said.
CMHC’s fall 2012 rental market report states Okotoks’ vacancy rate rose from zero to 6.3 per cent and the average rent is than $977 per month for two-bedroom apartments and $1,017 for rentals with three or more bedrooms. However, Ingalls and others involved in the local rental market said the vacancy rate remains near zero and rents range between $1,100 and $1,200 for two-bedroom apartments and more than $1,400 for houses with three or more bedrooms.
The provincial government uses the CMHC data to determine the income thresholds for communities over 10,000, and it researches rental markets in communities under 10,000 people to determine the income thresholds in those communities.
Compared to Okotoks, income levels needed to qualify for a rental subsidy are higher in many communities across the Calgary region. For example, to qualify for a rental subsidy for a two-bedroom apartment in Okotoks one would have to make under $33,000. However, renters in Calgary, Airdrie and even Bragg Creek can earn as much as $46,000 and potentially qualify for a subsidy.
Ingalls has been asking the Province to raise the income thresholds for Okotoks because there are special circumstances warranting a higher threshold such as the low vacancy rate and the fact there are no new large multi-family housing developments on the horizon.
Town council has also sent a letter to CMHC asking it to revise the thresholds for Okotoks.
There is no official listing of the number of rental properties in Okotoks and it’s not known what percentage of the town’s overall rental market is covered by CMHC’s report.
However, the Western Wheel has accounted for 80 rental properties with no vacancies not included in the survey.
Prairie Management and Realty manage 20 properties in Okotoks and all are full. The company’s owner Andrew Fulcher questioned the vacancy rate and average rents reported in the CMHC report.
“I’m not sure that’s reflective of the actual vacancy rate within the market place,” he said.
Calgary’s Drummer Realty owns and manages 60 rental properties in Okotoks and it has no vacancies. Company president Sean Siemens said they did not participate in the CMHC report because all the properties it manages are individually owned.
Richard Cho, CMHC senior market analyst, said its report only covers properties specifically built as rental complexes, and does not include homes, condos or basement suites.
Cho said CMHC doesn’t conduct a secondary rental market survey in Okotoks that would look at things like houses and apartments. This is done in larger centers, but he couldn’t answer why they don’t do so in Okotoks.
Trish Anderson, Alberta Municipal Affairs and Housing spokesperson, said no system is perfect, but the CMHC report is the only information available on the rental market for communities over 10,000 people.
“This is what we have available to us and this is what we are going with,” she said.
Anderson said the income thresholds are reviewed annually and new levels will come into effect in April using the fall 2012 data.
As well, she said they’re just one of a number of factors used to determine if someone receives a rental subsidy.
Michael Norris, spokesperson for the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said the Province is doing the best it can with the information it has.
Norris said it could end up costing the Province more to do a comprehensive survey of rental markets, reducing the amount of money available for subsidies.