Editors and reporters receive all sorts of stats-related emails each day. Most of them are national in nature, or not pertinent to the local market, and wind up in the deleted folder of the email account, along with announcement about new CEO for an Ontario-based company, or federal government news releases about healthcare funding elsewhere in Canada.
But one stats email that used to be required reading for reporters in Estevan and other communities the moment it arrived was the rental market outlook from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). It listed the number and percentage of rental units available (at least those that were registered) in a city, and then broke those numbers down in each category.
During the economic boom years from 2006-2014, we looked forward to it with baited breath. And it came out twice a year at that time, once in the spring and once in the fall. You could say it was CMHC’s early Christmas gift for reporters everywhere.
There were years in which there weren’t any vacancies in the Estevan market, at least not among the registered units. (I’m sure there were people looking to rent out a room to someone else, and that flew under the radar).
Bachelor suites in which you’re sharing a bathroom with four other people? There were none. One and two-bedroom apartments? Forget about it. Houses for rent? Nope.
And the rental rates were insane. There was a time in which Estevan was home to the highest rent in the country. Higher than Vancouver or Toronto. Higher than other oil boom markets like Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray.
You wanted to move to Estevan, take a job and find a place to live? You wouldn’t have trouble finding work. Many businesses had vacancies, in large part because people couldn’t find accommodations.
(Lest you think Estevan was an exceptional situation, the most expensive rental market in the U.S. at the same time was in Williston, N.D., another Bakken boom city).
I took an extra interest in the CMHC document since I was a renter until purchasing a condo in 2013. And for that first year after I purchased the condo, I still took a keen interest in the document, and muttered to myself “Thank God I purchased the condo.”
The rental market report is still a must-read document when it arrives in my email account each year. I still want to know how many units are available, what the average rent is, and how we compare with the rest of the province.
But the days of Estevan having the lowest rental vacancy rate and the highest average rent are long gone. We’re still higher than a lot of markets. Some apartment buildings need to charge a high rent because they have to pay for the cost of building their apartments during the boom years.
And while the housing supply never caught up with the demand during the boom, there were a lot of new rental units that were constructed in the first half of this decade.
Other people have to charge a high amount because they purchased the condo during the boom, and the rent needs to at least come close to covering their mortgage.
But a unit that was $950 a month five years ago might be around $700 a month now.
I don’t regret my decision to buy a condo at the tail end of the boom. The place where I was living was too small for what I needed. It wasn’t a place where I could comfortably have friends over for a barbecue.
I wasn’t paying an exorbitant amount, and I was one of the lucky ones who had a good landlord. (I couldn’t say the same thing about my previous building owners).
I had saved up enough money to purchase a place of my own, without being house-poor. (Or condo-poor, in my case). And finally, 13 years in Estevan’s rental market had been long enough.
There are a lot of things I miss about the boom years. It was an exciting time to be in Estevan, and to be in Saskatchewan as a whole. The city was growing in ways that it hadn’t since the 1950s, and the province was thriving in a way that it hadn’t since its early years.
A lot of things happened that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Do you really think we would have an arena like Affinity Place if it wasn’t constructed during the boom?
At times it felt like the boom would never end, even though we knew it would.
The boom also created problems, and the housing market might have been the biggest. People couldn’t find a place to live. Some were forced to live on the streets.
I don’t miss being a renter in Estevan in 2010.
But I still miss the sense of intrigue associated with receiving the rental market report twice a year, thanks to all of the great information it contained.