“My name is Gail and I am a renter.” It’s not a perfect analogy, but in Canada, a certain amount of shame in renting is the flip-side of the pride derived from home-ownership. These feelings of shame and pride are arguably the product of a strong social norm that places a high – some might say irrational – value on owning one’s home, as reaction to recent mortgage rate hikes has demonstrated. (See also here). As seen in the CBC clip, even though the federal Finance Minister has taken steps to clip the wings of wannabe home owners, he doesn’t expressly advocate renting – just taking longer to buy your first home.The question is should public policy continue to reinforce this social norm, or should it, as Susan Delacourt wrote in the Star a few weeks ago, help to create “an expanded, updated concept of the Canadian Dream” that can instill pride in renting, as well as owning?
According to a 2010 report by GWL Realty Advisors, which can be found on the Martin Prosperity Institute website, there has been a shift in recent years from consuming goods to consuming “experiences” – food, entertainment, spa treatments, etc. Renters are people who choose proximity to these experiences over living wherever they can afford to buy a home. This is in part because apartment-dwellers also tend to be workers in the “knowledge economy” whose job it is to come up with new ideas and who therefore seek out experiences for inspiration. The problem is, after years of neglect, demand for quality rental accommodation is far outstripping supply. As rental costs rise, Canadian cities may find it difficult to attract the renters necessary to keep the emerging experience and knowledge economies healthy and dynamic.So, politicians and policy-makers, perhaps it’s time to give renters their due. As Delacourt states, “renters buy things too”. And they vote.