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Two ideas for increasing the supply of new rental housing

There are lots of ideas out there for how to improve the supply of new rental housing. But it is important to remember, at least here in our market, that the playing field is not level between new condominiums and new rental homes. We have spoken about this before, over here, where I compared the (per square foot) revenue generated from your average new condo against that generated by your average new rental home. Of course, since I wrote that post in 2020, we have seen upward pressure on cap rates (meaning downward pressure on values). So feasibility has gotten even more challenging.

The important thing to remember is that developers do not have some philosophical aversion to building more rental housing; it is that the math is challenging. You generally need economies of scale (really big projects), patient long-term capital, and a belief that rents will continue to exhibit meaningful positive growth. If you want to negatively impact new supply, cap rental growth. But if you want to encourage new supply, somebody needs to pull out a development pro forma and make the call to improve the cost structure for new rental housing.

In my opinion, two obvious line items to focus on are development charges (as well as the other government levies) and HST (our harmonized sales tax). The point of development charges, as we always talk about, is for growth to pay for growth. They are intended to pay for municipal services like roads, transit, water and sewer, and so on. In the other words, they’re supposed to capture of the cost impacts of new housing. But what about the impact of not building enough new rental housing? Are we thinking about this the right way? Especially if you consider the possibility of more new rental housing in our existing transit nodes.

The HST charged on new rental housing is also significant. There is a new residential rental property rebate available to builders (not tax advice!), but the thresholds have not been indexed and so it’s grossly out of date compared to where values sit today. In any event, if the goal is more homes, why not make new rental homes exempt? Developers are simple. If the math works, they will build. If the math doesn’t work, they will not build. And these two line items, alone, would go a long way to helping the former.

Photo by Pierre Châtel-Innocenti on Unsplash


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