Kendra Adams answered the Zoom call sitting on her couch wearing a toque and jacket. 

“It’s just a little cold in here,” she said. “We’ve had the heat off all day because our hydro bill is getting too expensive.” 

The young couple turns off their heat while at work to save money, she explained. 

Last October, Adams and her partner Jackson McCully bought a home in Gatineau. The purchase happened despite the fact that both were born in Ontario and currently work in the province. 

The recent university graduates switched their home search to Quebec shortly after they realized they could not find anything for lower than $500,000 in Ontario, Adams explained. 

“We didn’t want to give away every penny. We wanted to be able to afford furniture,” Adams said. 

The couple is not alone in the struggle to afford housing. Whether renting or buying, balancing budgets has become increasingly difficult. Mortgage interest costs are up 28.6 per cent and rent is up 7.7 per cent from December 2022. Recently, the Bank of Canada held the interest rate steady at five per cent on Jan. 24 and some economists believe the bank could cut rates starting this summer.

The two met in 2017 at Brock University in St. Catharines and moved to Ottawa in 2022.

They struggled to find a place to live in Ottawa and that forced them to move in with Adams’ mother to start saving money for a downpayment on a home. 

“We rented all throughout university, so for five years. If we were buying a $500,000 home we would’ve needed to put down $25,000, which is a lot to have saved up for two recent graduates who were paying rent every month,” Adams said. 

In fact, Adams sold her car and put that cash towards their new home and savings.

“The car was just a bit too expensive on gas and I wanted to save a bit more money. We put all of the money from the car into purchasing the furniture for the home.” 

Adams and McCully aren’t the only ones crossing the Ottawa River. Ontario residents have been flocking to Gatineau at growing rates. 

Francis Cortellino, an economist with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, said this trend accelerated during the pandemic. Ten per cent of home sales in the city now are made by former Ottawa residents. Five years ago, it was five per cent.

Detached homes in the Ottawa area have increased by more than $200,000 since 2019 with an average price now at $740,000, the Ottawa Real Estate Board says. 

Meanwhile, prices on the Quebec side are not as high, with just more than $500,000 for a house on average. Cortellino said one factor governing price is the supply of homes. 

Ottawa and Gatineau have higher home building rates than, for example, cities such as Montreal and Hamilton. 

Cortellino said many factors create a competitive market for renters and homebuyers.

"Students from abroad, asylum seekers, immigrants, most of them will rent when they arrive into a market like Ottawa, so that's going to put pressure on the demands,” he said.

Cortellino said that when new families can’t afford to buy a house, they’re more likely to rent longer, limiting vacancy rates as people stay in place. 

Mike Moffatt, a senior director of the Smart Prosperity Institute, said rent control rules can extend the time families are able to rent. 

Old units are subject to rules outlining how much rents can increase each year. Housing built and occupied after Nov. 15, 2018, are exempt from these controls.

“We're seeing situations where people are getting ‘reno-victed.’ Landlords are making repairs to buildings, sometimes necessary [and] sometimes less necessary, forcing the tenants out.” Moffatt said.

One solution being raised is more social housing being delivered by the City of Ottawa. 

Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), which is funded by the City of Ottawa, provides affordable housing for about 32,000 tenants in the city. 

Brian Gilligan, Chief Officer of Community and Tenant Support at OCH says that 12,000 households are on a waiting list for social housing in Ottawa, a number that has been consistent for a decade. The wait is about five years.

Gilligan argues the reason for this backlog is the province’s reluctance to fund social housing construction in the 1990s. The government has only begun funding more projects in recent years. 

He said social housing allows low-income families to have more money for things like food, clothing and school supplies rather than spending half their income on rent.  

Gilligan said that OCH is working on building more handicap-accessible units and more townhouses as many households on the waiting list need accessible housing or are large families. 

Adams and McCully said that when looking for their home, they were sure they would rather buy in Quebec than rent in Ontario.

The couple look forward to the first summer in their new home so they can be warm when they save money on heating.