The Financialization of Housing: Multi-Family Rentals in Edmonton

Like all communities across Canada, Edmonton has a housing problem. And despite many best efforts, this crisis only continues to worsen.

How can we best understand and fix this issue of (in)access to adequate housing?

The key to understanding and effectively addressing our housing crisis is to take a human rights approach (UNHRC 2019).

One way we can apply a rights based approach is by identifying major trends and emerging challenges that negatively impact housing rights (UNHRC 2019, p 20).

One major trend that has been identified as a driver of our prolonged housing crisis, including increasingly unacceptable housing, is the financialization of housing.

In this series we have covered:

How Financialized is Edmonton’s Primary Rental Market?

Learn more about primary and secondary rental housing by clicking on the infographic above, or download here.

As a reminder, approximately 51% of tenants in the city of Edmonton live in secondary rental housing – an estimated 74,168 households in 2021 (calculated using CMHC, Statistics Canada).

The remaining 49% of tenants live in primary, purpose built (multi-family) rental suites, in apartments and row homes – a total of 70,077 households in 2021 (CMHC).

Based on the work of the AHSL, we found that 37,304 primary rental or multi-family suites in Edmonton were financialized – out of the total rental universe of 78,301 (CMHC).
Estimates as of 2022

CMHC’s Housing Market Information Portal is a great resource for housing data by location i.e. Edmonton CMA, Edmonton CY (City)

Nationwide it is thought that 20% of primary purpose built rental suites are owned by financialized entities (p.iii).

In the City of Edmonton, as of 2022, the AHSL estimates that 48% of all purpose built rental suites are owned by financialized landlords – which could be up to more than double the estimated national average!
Click on the chart below to view

Note: National estimates of financialized multi-family housing range between 20 – 30%. And details on the AHSL’s methodology can be viewed here.

We know that with the financialization of multi-family housing comes less affordable rents (August 2022, ACORN 2022). Edmonton is no different.

Between 2006 and 2016 alone Edmonton lost over 50,000 ‘more affordable market’ rental suites with rents less than $999/month (City & CMA). Looking at Edmonton and the surrounding area:

  • In 2006 81% of all rental suites were less than $999/month
  • In 2016 27% of all rental suites were less than $999/month

The figure below shows average rental wage versus the percentage of multi-family suites owned by financialized landlords in the city of Edmonton between 1990 – 2022:
Click on the figure to expand

Using CMHC’s historical average rents for the city of Edmonton, rental wages were selected for studio apartments, 1 bedroom apartments, 2 bedroom apartments, and row houses with 3 or more bedrooms – which combined represented 91-93% of all primary rentals. Rental wage was calculated by multiplying the average monthly value by 12, and multiplying that value by 3.4 – generating a minimum yearly income required to afford average rent (paying less than 30% of income).

We can see that there is also a widening of cost in between each type of rental. We also can observe that rises in the cost of rent seem to coincide with the increase of the amount of financialized multi-family housing – which is also highlighted by the graph below (click on chart to view more clearly):

(1) AHSL: estimates of the number of suites acquired by financialized owners over time in the city of Edmonton
(2) CMHC’s historical primary rental market summary statistics:
a) median and average rents in the city of Edmonton (combined row homes and apartments, across all bedroom types): then using 1990 as the base year to calculate increases in housing costs over time
b) sum total # of suites by year: divided by (1) to calculate the % of primary rental suites financialized in the city of Edmonton over time

Between 1997 and 2008 rental wage/costs effectively doubled. While Edmonton is often lauded for being affordable, this is not what the data tells us, and this is not the experience of over 68,000 tenant households in Edmonton living in unacceptable housing. And this is especially not the case for women.

For decades, Alberta has maintained the title of the province with the largest gender wage gap across Canada.

If we look at rental wage compared to men’s and women’s average market incomes by age it is clear that women have far less access to housing choices then men as women’s wages have not kept pace with escalating housing costs. This is especially important as this is clearly a barrier for women exiting relationships – further intensified when seeking housing alternatives with children and searching for rental suites with 2 or more bedrooms.

The three graphs below show rental wage for men and women compared with average market income by age. The second chart has the same y axis to show how big the gender wage gap is in Edmonton. The third chart offers a closer look at rental wage and women’s market income.
Click on each graph below to expand

Data source: Statistics Canada. Table 11-10-0239-01  Income of individuals by age group, sex and income source, Canada, provinces and selected census metropolitan areas. Income disaggregated by sex and age was not available for census subdivision (city) so data for Census Metropolitan Area (CMA – Edmonton and surrounding area) was used. Rental wage was calculated using average city rents by year (CMHC).

Realities are even more dire when we look at social assistance rates compared with increasing rental wages:
Click on each graph below to expand

Review panel on the financialization of purpose-built rental housing

The financialization of housing is a key structural driver of our housing crisis in Edmonton.

This is a phenomenon that is largely hidden, secretive, incredibly complex, tedious, confusing, and difficult to understand. This can make it incredibly hard to even begin to identify what is actually going on with housing in our community. In the absence of good information narratives can emerge that are in stark contrast to the realities experienced by households trying to access adequate housing. And takes us even further away from understanding the issues at the heart of our housing crisis, much less solving them.

This is an issue that has caught the attention of the Federal Government.

The National Housing Council just launched its written hearing for the review panel examining the financialization of purpose-built rental housing. The review panel is a new mechanism for rights-based participation – meaning this was intended and created for tenants and households who are most impacted by the financialization of multi-family housing.

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to send in a written submission through mail or email by August 31, 2023.

More details can be found here, as well as in the recording and shared materials from the AHSL’s May 23 event (part of the AHSL’s Right to Housing Series).

Note: this blog was updated September 15, 2023

Learn more about the financialization of housing and what this means for Edmonton:

The National Housing Advocate also has excellent resources.

Leave a Reply