Housing crunch may send renters on to the streets


Renfrew — The shortage of vacant housing in Renfrew County is reaching a crisis point for people like Benita Deacon.

Although she has spent months searching for a rental unit in and around Renfrew, she finds herself among several residents in all parts of the Valley who are facing the very real possibility she and her partner may be homeless once she leaves her current home.

Over the last year the red-hot housing market has resulted in winners and losers. Some homeowners, along with individuals who own multi-unit residences, have sold their properties far above the original asking price. At the same time, various social media pages designed to match property owners with people seeking accommodation are filled with postings from people scrambling to secure a rental.

Some of them were notified they have to vacate due to a change of ownership while others share their fear and frustration of not being able to find any housing for the simple fact they decided to move. Regardless of the circumstances, they all share the frustration of too few units available for too many renters.

Ms. Deacon’s reasons for finding a new residence are different than most, but like many others, she shares the fear of not securing a home before her deadline of June 1.

“I moved into my mother’s home last year after she became quite ill and I helped care for her until she died,” she said. “My sister and I realized we needed to sell the house in order to settle my mom’s estate and unfortunately I don’t qualify for a mortgage so I started to look around for a place in Renfrew to live. About five months ago I began to realize there is a shortage and that is when I began to really get worried about finding somewhere to rent.”

Ms. Deacon has rented different properties in Renfrew over several years and she never had a problem securing a vacancy. Both she and her boyfriend have been gainfully employed and she is on good terms with past landlords and although they had no negative interaction with the couple and had no issue renting a unit to them, they were told there were no units to rent.

“I have never seen anything like it in all my time in Renfrew,” she said. “Even past landlords who had no issue with me have nothing open and they have placed us on a waiting list.”

She has used every resource, including several traditional and social media pages to try and apply for a unit. Her family and friends have notified her of openings and within minutes of a rental unit appearing on the market, it is filled with dozens, and in some cases over 100 inquiries from people desperate to secure housing.

“This is really scary,” she said. “I had no idea it was this bad and I chatted with many fellow renters all telling the same story. Some places are being sold with more and more people coming from Ottawa and other places because they want to get out of the city and away from people jammed together afraid to get COVID. Both my boyfriend and I work and have done everything right and so many times we can’t even get inside to look at a place because it is rented by the time we show up to see it.”

Her boyfriend commutes to Ottawa daily for his job and they have expanded their search outside of Renfrew but have fared no better. They recently purchased a van used for his daily commute, but in the event they cannot find housing, it will be used for another purpose.

“There is a real chance we may be homeless and I don’t even want to think about that, but it is something we have to consider and we may be forced to live in our van. I just hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Ms. Deacon has rented units belonging to McGrimmon Holdings in Renfrew. The property management company owns more than 380 rental units ranging from bachelor apartments to townhouses and is the largest landlord in Renfrew. She approached the company earlier this year to apply for a rental unit and was informed there was a waiting list for all properties.

The Leader made inquiries to staff members at the main office and they confirmed there was a growing waiting list, one of the very few times they have no vacant units. It was also noted staff members said they had never seen the market offer so little in terms of rentals for as long as they can recall.

It is that realization and sense of desperation that led Brittany Crawford to offer a substantial amount of money in order to secure a three-bedroom unit anywhere in Renfrew or Cobden, and all places in between.

“I am desperate to find a suitable place for myself and my children,” she said. “Most places ask for first and last month’s rent so I decided to offer three month’s rent in order to try and finally find a place and stop worrying about finding somewhere to put a roof over my children’s heads. I know a lot of people out there in the same boat and maybe offering so much money up front might be what it takes to get this search over with.”

This is a new experience for the young mother. Instead of taking a leisurely lunch while at work, she is frantically checking various apartment and house rentals on social media pages. She is in constant contact with others finding themselves in the same position.

Although she is not alone in her quest to find accommodations and has been able to share her frustration with others in the Valley, she still goes to bed at night hoping tomorrow will be the day her three-month deposit is accepted.

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