Young people and seniors are putting pressure on St. Albert’s rental apartment market, driving up demand and fuelling speculation that more apartments will be built to increase a supply that has been almost static for decades.
Patrick Draper, city manager, said the existing stock of apartments is now being rented at a much faster rate than expected, particularly driven by individuals just starting out and seniors looking to downsize.
“There is a heightened interest in being able to rent,” he said. “We’ve also had indications from some of the developers of rental properties and we hope there’s more that will be coming. They see very, very high demand.”
Doris Vandersteen, executive director of the St. Albert Housing Society, said the demand has been consistently strong with supply remaining low after a nearly 35-year gap in development.
“There’s a high need for more rental accommodations in St. Albert,” she said. “I think that there is a shortage for a city our size, of apartment development.”
To ease the problem, the St. Albert Housing Society is building a new 117-unit market-based and affordable rental complex in North Ridge. The complex, Big Lake Pointe, is set to open in early 2013.
“The existing apartment stock is very dated and that’s in large part just to do with the economics in the last several years,” Vandersteen said.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported a significant jump in the number of rental starts in St. Albert in the first six months of 2012. This period saw 118 rental apartment starts – up from zero the previous year – representing roughly half of the total housing starts.
Vandersteen said renting is attractive to people for a variety of reasons, including building equity, working toward home ownership or simply because of cost constraints.
“We expect that rental housing will continue to be a need in the foreseeable future,” she said.
North Ridge is also home to another market-based rental complex, which began occupancy earlier this month. Northridge Village Apartments is a 96-unit, two-building complex that is already fully rented.
“When we looked at rental stock and the number of rentals available in St. Albert, it seemed to be a big deficit of rental apartments,” said Scott Butler, project manager.
He said prior to construction, there were only about 850 rental units available across the city. Butler said the company is considering further development in St. Albert.
According to the 2012 Municipal Census, rental properties in St. Albert increased to 14 per cent, up from 12 per cent in 2010.
Of the total 2,634 rental units in St. Albert, 42 per cent are multi-tenant in multi-storey complexes, with 33 per cent, or 863 units, being single-detached homes.
Single-detached homes remain the most common housing type in St. Albert, with 73.9 per cent of dwellings, or 17,323 units. Apartments and condominiums are the second most common, at 12.2 per cent or 2,856 units.
“We have been very focused on single-family homes as a community as we’ve evolved over the last 20 to 30 years,” Draper said. “There’s definitely a very strong interest among homebuyers for single-family houses … but I think we’ll see maybe a different proportion [of housing types] than we have in the past.”
He said there are relatively few stand-alone apartment buildings in St. Albert, but noted some units are currently under construction.
Mayor Nolan Crouse said he would like to see a wider range of housing options in the city, particularly to accommodate young families and seniors.
“A starter home and a retirement home, in many ways, are one and the same,” he said. “We have to find a way to bring our product mix just a little bit different in terms of housing: A, to get the younger family and B, to make sure we can all live in our home through the aging years.”
According to 2010 Municipal Census data, rental properties were most common in older neighbourhoods in the city. In 2010, 12 per cent of dwellings were rentals, with 20.1 per cent situated in Grandin, 12.8 per cent in Akinsdale and 12.7 per cent in Inglewood.
Price to own
St. Albert’s housing stock, including condominiums, apartments, single-detached homes and townhouses, is primarily focused in the $300,001 to $400,000 price range, with 51.3 per cent of dwellings falling in this category.
Roughly one quarter of dwellings are in the next highest bracket of $400,001 to $500,000, with only 9.7 per cent of dwellings in the under-$300,000 category.
Draper said comparable communities, like Fort Saskatchewan and Stony Plain, have roughly 40 per cent of housing stock priced at less than $300,000.