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Developer tells Canadians priced out of home ownership: It’s OK to rent

Amidst soaring rents and scarce vacancies, Canada finds itself grappling with a dire shortage of apartments. Adrian Rocca, at the helm of Fitzrovia, is pioneering a novel approach to address this crisis, eschewing traditional homeownership in favor of embracing renting.

Fitzrovia, under Rocca's leadership, is spearheading the development of 8,500 rental units, marking an unparalleled commitment to high-end apartment living across Canada. In a departure from the conventional view of renting as a temporary solution or a choice for those with limited means, Rocca is championing a shift in perception. He envisions a future where renting is synonymous with luxury and convenience, offering amenities ranging from rooftop pools to dog spas.

The surge in demand for rental properties isn't solely driven by tenants but also by institutional investors, notably Canada's public pension funds, seeking to diversify their portfolios. Recognizing this trend, Rocca aims to bridge the gap by partnering with such investors to finance and develop new apartment buildings, thereby addressing both the housing shortage and the investment appetite.

While initially focusing on luxury markets like Toronto due to their higher profit margins, Rocca has ambitions beyond upscale living. He is exploring opportunities in student housing and the revitalization of older apartment complexes, catering to diverse segments of the population.

The tipping point came around 2017 when Rocca observed that escalating rents, propelled by immigration-driven population growth, made apartment development financially viable. Partnering with major pension funds and real estate companies, Fitzrovia secures project financing while retaining partial ownership and overseeing development and management.

Despite efforts to ramp up construction, the pace struggles to keep pace with surging demand, exacerbated by rising interest rates. Rocca advocates for government intervention, proposing measures such as extending tax breaks and providing property tax abatements to incentivize affordable housing construction.

Rocca's luxury developments command premium rents, highlighting a glaring gap for low-income earners struggling with housing affordability. Nonetheless, housing experts argue that expanding supply, even in the luxury segment, can indirectly alleviate pressure on lower-priced rentals by encouraging upward mobility among tenants.

Looking ahead, Rocca envisions a holistic approach to housing, aiming to establish a fund dedicated to constructing units tailored to low-income tenants while maintaining Fitzrovia's commitment to quality and community. For Rocca, renting isn't merely about shelter; it's about fostering a sense of belonging and community, regardless of one's socioeconomic status.