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Are simple economics to blame for rising housing costs?

Toronto is undergoing a serious housing crisis — everyone is saying so! Experts, real estate agents, the media, and even politicians admit openly the cost of housing is getting out of control. And yet, even after months of knowing this fact, no one is doing anything about it.

Sure, the government is enacting rent control and a non-resident speculation tax. But this same government, whether municipal, provincial, or federal, hasn’t done what experts are claiming is the easiest and most effective thing they can do for the housing market: build!

“The only reason why prices rise is because there are more buyers than sellers,” explained Jon Love, CEO of KingSett Capital. “Prices rise for no other reason.”

Thursday, new statistics became available through the census that said Toronto has 5,000 fewer detached homes homes in 2016 compared to 2011. It’s what Love calls simple economics. When there are three people interested in purchasing one home, the problem isn’t foreigners or lack of regulation; it’s demand and supply. It means there aren’t enough homes for everyone.

Sure, we have lots of high-rise buildings popping up throughout the downtown core, but a family with three children most likely won’t want to live in an apartment building. Without diversity in housing, there will always be people left without.

It seems so simple; why is this so hard to understand? What is preventing people from building more family-friendly homes in Toronto and throughout the Golden Horseshoe?

Most people blame the NIMBYs — the people who claim they don’t want condos built in their back yard — or the bureaucratic red tape of development agencies. But Love says everyone is to blame. At the end of the day, he asks, “do we want to be Chicago, or Detroit?” A world-class city needs housing, daycare, parks, and transit — so, how do we get it?

First of all, the government needs to intensely invest in transit and open up surrounding geographies for development. If people who work in Toronto have the option of living in places like Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa — with the possibility of commuting on an express train — many people will do so! An hour commute is not unreasonable if it means saving money on a home. This would also free up homes within the city for those who want or need it.

Why not take it even further and build on top of the rail, Love asks. The purpose of expanding the Golden Horseshoe through transit is to connect people and create communities and neighbourhoods along these hubs. This can’t be done if people have to walk for 30 minutes just to get to the bus.

Second of all, the city needs to encourage development zoning and encourage the building of low and mid-rise condominiums. “People are terrified of 60-story buildings,” Love said. “But mid-rise is fine! I would pre-zone areas to allow for that density.”

This type of variety in housing is necessary not only in order to accommodate the many types of people looking for homes in the GTHA., but also to allow for the immediate development of land in neighbourhoods that are against the building of tall condominiums. Pre-zoning would also reduce the number of complaints and bureaucratic tape that surrounds development. Instead of a developer purchasing land and then deciding what to do with it, the community would actually have a say in what kind of buildings or homes will be put in their neighbourhoods.

Finally, allowing a second kitchen within a home to be used as a secondary apartment, within designated areas, would be a short-term solution that would allow homeowners to rent our basements and provide housing for short-term occupancy.

These short and long term solutions were all suggested with the clear understanding that prices go up because there are more buyers than sellers, a concept Love says won’t be accepted until there is a significant change in public opinion.

The biggest problem is that NIMBY-ism and the fear of immigrants taking our land, jobs, and homes, are much more attractive for both the media and government agencies. Rather than stand with the experts, public servants are focusing on issues that will bring them votes, things like free prescription and lower electricity bills. Things only ever get done when the government is scared of losing power. If the public told governments to build, to increase the supply so that more people could purchase homes, it would have to do so. Until then, they will continue to blame tax foreigners and claim to help cool the market while families are left homeless.

It’s time the government consulted experts and remembered their university or college introduction to economics course — prices rise when the demand is higher than the supply. And here in the Golden Horseshoe, we have about as much demand as you can get.

Rent control needed to control rising prices

Rent is at an all-time high in Toronto, with low vacancy rates and high prices. In other words, it is nearly impossible to find a home to rent in the current market.

The cost of renting a home in the city has increased above the rate of inflation, and the municipal and provincial governments are looking at ways to help control the price of rent. The Ontario government announced in March  it will consider substantial changes to rent-control rules due to tenants complaining about double-digit rent increases that are leaving people homeless. As the rules stand, only apartment buildings built before 1991 can have rent control and the government is now looking at changing that.

Ontario introduced rent controls in 1976 as a temporary measure to lower rent increases to the rate of inflation, and the NDP government offered a five-year rent control exemption to units in 1992 to encourage developers to build new units. The rules then became permanent. Instead, landlords can only raise rent by 1.5 per cent annually, but can apply for additional increases. Many stakeholders, including CIBC Capital Markets, are against re-implementing rent control because it previously reduced new construction of apartment buildings, and accelerated building deterioration that had rent control.

Rent control is being criticized because there is a concern that landlords won’t upkeep apartment rentals if they can’t lift the cost of rent, or that tenants will remain for longer. It is assumed that landlords will do the bare minimum to maintain an apartment and many rent-cost units fall into disrepair. Avoiding rent control because it would cause landlords to not maintain their property truly demonstrates how corrupt the rental market is. There should be a morally upright desire to fix units. Instead, avoiding certain rent control strategies because it is naturally expected landlords won’t upkeep their responsibilities proves how greedy and deplorable the apartment rental market can be.

The City of Toronto has decided to implement a new set of rules that will force landlords to track tenant complaints, respond quickly to repair requests, and provide pest control. The rules will come into effect on July 1 and is being widely celebrated by tenants in Toronto. The program will be enforced 12 months after launching and will apply to 3,500 buildings with three or more storeys of 10 or more units, resulting in 350,000 apartments. The rules indicate that emergency requests such as no water or heat must be handled in under 24 hours and a pest control situation must be dealt with in 72 hours. Landlords will also be forbidden from renting an apartment with a pest control problem.

Re-implementing rent control is a necessary in Toronto, especially with the new rules that have been implemented that would force landlords to upkeep their rental units. The cost of renting an apartment should be at par with the rate of inflation, because otherwise it is giving way to corruption and greed. It is commendable that the province and city are getting involved in rentals and will ultimately force landlords into a position to provide tenants with fair prices and liveable apartment units.

Empty houses are driving up Toronto real estate market

People often speculate on reasons why the real estate has ballooned so heavily in the last couple years in Toronto, and across Canada. Everything from foreign buyers to decreased land availability has been blamed, and Statistics Canada sheds further light on why the housing market is on high alert.

The newest 2016 census shows that Toronto alone has over 99,000 unoccupied homes in the city. These statistics results reflect that a lack of occupancy is a top housing issue in the city and is growing at the same rate as the rising price of real estate. Across Canada, the number of unoccupied homes as grown and is highest in Toronto, followed by Montreal. Vancouver is trailing in third, potentially in part due to the new foreign buyer bylaws that have come into effect.

By comparing the number of total private dwellings and the total private dwellings occupied in each city as collected in the census, it is easy to see there is an unusual difference between occupied homes and total dwellings available. In the last 10 years, the amount of unoccupied dwellings have also grown 10.5 per cent in Toronto, and the problem continues to worsen. It appears that the highest rate of non-occupancy is in the Concord area of Vaughan, which was at 35 per cent. Downtown Toronto also had more homes that weren’t being occupied, especially in the fashion district at King St. W, with 21 per cent not regularly occupied.

In this circumstance, blaming foreign buyers isn’t a viable reason because local Canadians are most often the residents to fill out the statistics report. Other factors could be AirBnB or short-term rentals to explain the unoccupied rentals, but it is becoming more clear that speculation is a big part of the reason. Homeowners are hanging onto their homes while the red hot real estate market is at its highest, and people are waiting until the city hits its peak price. These people are often known as ‘flippers’ and are unnecessarily preventing families in desperate need of housing from getting a much-needed house.

Having statistics available to highlight housing issues can provide answers to convoluted real estate issues that are often kept under wraps by stakeholders. By crunching numbers, it is easy to see why unoccupied homes are negatively contributing to the real estate bubble in the city. House flippers and speculators need to sell or rent unoccupied homes to people who need them, and housing must be made more affordable. Hopefully the government takes the necessary steps to crack down on unoccupied homes, and the real estate market can balance as a result.

Outlook for 2017 Toronto housing market is red hot

The Toronto housing market is one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the country, and it appears as if prices will continue to rise in 2017. This housing bubble in Canada is putting substantial pressure on people who are desperate to find housing — and little is being done to change it.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) keeps track of all the Canadian housing markets and releases alerts when the cost of housing in a given city is increasing at a faster rate than the rate of average income. In October 2016, CHMC put the entire country on its first ever red alert, mostly due to the spill-over effects of Toronto and Vancouver’s housing markets. Vancouver has taken steps to cool their market by implementing a foreign buyer tax, but Toronto has yet to implement any great changes. Frankly, Toronto is in hot water and without government intervention soon, housing will rise an extra 10 to 16 per cent this year.

In December 2016, an average house in Toronto was $730,432 and if the averages were to rise to the anticipated 2017 levels, a home could become a whopping $825,000. This prices most people out of the market, and leaves many without an option of a permanent residence. The Royal Bank of Canada completed a Canadian Housing Health Check for 2017, and highly recommended the government step in to cool off Toronto’s housing market. Nothing has been done as of yet.

Recently, the City of Toronto road toll proposal was abolished by the Ontario Liberals, under the leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne, which leaves the municipal housing market as one of the only ways for Toronto to make money for city needs. This puts the already-pressured housing market in a frightening position, as higher taxes in the form of a proposed harmonized land transfer tax or increased property taxes would raise costs even further within the Toronto boundary. Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) released research on Tuesday emphasizing that any added tax pressure to the city’s market would push up prices in the GHTA further because the tax wouldn’t be in these boundaries. It could also impact the rental market negatively.

In order to afford a house, co-buying is growing in popularity, as people come together to buy a home. Though mortgage companies are stricter when it comes to co-buying with non-family members, putting funds into one large pot is a creative solution to being able to purchase a home. It also fosters a shared sense of community and lowers the burden of financing a home with an over-inflated price.

The housing bubble will eventually pop and it will have devastating consequences on homeowners if interest rates sky-rocket. There is a lot of danger in having high home prices and low interest rates, including selling to people who can’t realistically afford what they are purchasing. Instead of continuing the upward housing cost trend, the government needs to intervene and cool the market. People deserve a home and places like Toronto and Vancouver should be accessible to all, not just the select few. The city may benefit off housing in the short-term, but an inflated market will have nasty side-effects and affordable housing needs to become a central priority on a municipal, provincial and federal level.

Gender equity budget tool is a win for women’s rights in Toronto

Last weekend, the world watched in awe as women around the globe marched in support of gender equality.

But, change begins on a local level, and requires leaders, real decision-makers and politicians, to step up. Cue: Ward 23 Councillor Wong-Tam. She recently led a motion that was passed at Toronto city council to embrace gender equity perspective tools in their budget process. Wong-Tam also contributed to educating women at a gender equity town hall last week, and spoke at the Women’s March in Toronto on Saturday, attended by over 50,000 women.

“The march was much larger than anyone anticipated and it was very peaceful,” Wong-Tam says. “I thought the focus was going to be on the U.S., but clearly Canadian women wanted to be heard and seen here as well.” Wong-Tam spoke up on Saturday about how $91 million worth of budget cuts have impacted women specifically in Toronto, ranging from shelters to childcare subsidies.

With 18,000 women and children currently sitting on the housing waitlist, Wong-Tam points out that women are disproportionately affected by the annual budget process when it comes to transit, housing, and daycare subsidies. “We already have women’s shelters at capacity, not just in Toronto but across the country,” Wong-Tam says. “Women and children that are trying to flee violent households are turned away. Where are they going to go?”

Luckily, a gender equity perspective as a part of the annual budget-making process would help ensure that women received more support and protection. “The proposition to create a gender responsive budget is not to create a separate budget for women, but to create a budget that has equal benefit to men and women,” Wong-Tam says. “We achieve that by creating a set of questions that policymakers would use.”

Creating a gender responsive budget is a concept that is already being used by over 150 cities around the world. According to Wong-Tam, creating a gender equity tool in Toronto would begin by developing a complex series of questions for policymakers. “We need to start off by compiling aggregated data to understand who uses what services and budget allocations,” Wong-Tam says. “We would then ask service users if their needs are being met. If most are women using that particular service, we then recognize that.”

Creating a gender equity tool for the budget process is a dynamic solution to include people with various intersecting identities. “Women also come from a range of groups and vulnerable populations facing equity issues of their own, including racialized women, women with disabilities, women who are seniors,” Wong-Tam says. “The intersectional lens allows us to look at the full picture. We want to create a single budget that encompasses everyone.”

Toronto city staff is not prepared to enact gender equity tools within the 2017 budget, but Wong-Tam has hope for the following year. The councillor has created a task force full of service providers and female economists to help financial city staff create a gender equity tool for 2018 — and she vows to make it happen.

“I’m encouraged because there are so many young women who were energized around this issue. What I want to say to them is that we need to find a path from protest to power. The march on Washington has been ongoing asking and demanding for certain rights. The energy that I personally witnessed can fizzle out if we don’t keep organizing. We can be active around protests, but the only way to change the system is to hold the government accountable and keep organizing.”

Wong-Tam believes the way to finding equality for women is to act, and Women’s Post agrees. Vote for women, vote for gender equity, and fight for women’s rights using the power of the law and political will. If anything, the women’s march on Saturday showed that the world is on the precipice of change, so engage! Follow Councillor Wong-Tam’s lead and make Toronto a better place for future women and girls.

Celebrating Women: Chynna Howard

Chynna Howard is a defining example of what is possible when courage and selflessness are the primary qualities of a person’s make-up. This millennial woman is going to change lives with her accomplishments, and has already made an integral space for herself in Edmonton’s affordable housing community.

Howard, 27, is tackling the housing crisis head on through the founding of ‘Jill’s Place’, a rooming house located in Edmonton that she named after her mom. The rooming house will help homeless women that are in desperate need of housing in the city’s core, and is set to open in January 2017. While most people feel powerless to change the homeless crisis in Canada, Howard’s absolute selflessness is nothing short of mouth-dropping.

Howard started working in housing as a social worker at the Bissell Centre, a non-profit that provides a variety of services for the homeless, working for the outreach housing team in Edmonton. She began to notice a gap for women looking for housing in inner-city Edmonton and decided to tackle the issue herself. “The waitlists for housing are ridiculous. I was finding that these women didn’t have enough money and couldn’t find housing just for women,” Howard says. “They didn’t fit under the ‘domestic’ umbrella and didn’t want to be in a shelter. There was a lot of discrimination finding a roommate due to being aboriginal and homeless.”

Jill’s Place will provide a clean and safe home to women who are homeless in downtown Edmonton, and will help marginalized women with a place to live. Howard plans on using her skills as a social worker to help women in the home meet basic needs such as meal planning and groceries. She is also considering starting a crowdfunding campaign to help fund a welcome package for each woman that would include a towel, and other products. “I’m trying to benefit inner city women by providing safe and clean rooms. I know it is a really tough work, we need to provide clean and safe rooming homes,” Howard says. “I can fill out a rent report for them [the women who need help with rent living in the house] and take it to Alberta Works. For the most part, it will be a home. There will be a resource room with internet and a phone.”

Howard also decided to purchase the rooming house as a way to honour her dad’s memory, a high school teacher from Kelowna who passed away from cancer in 2014. “When he passed away, I was left money from his pension. I thought this would be the perfect way to use and honour that. It never felt like my money so I’m glad I found a way to honour it. I use everything he taught me to make this community better,” Howard says. “I wanted to make sure my dad’s legacy is carried on. People wonder how I’m able to financially do this. I’d give it back if I had him, but it isn’t that way so I will do this.”

In honour of her dad’s memory, Howard began the annual Clyde Howard Memorial Bursary intended for a female student in the Okanagan area entering post-secondary education.

Howard’s portrait of her father, Clyde.

Howard also happens to be a great artist and hopes to integrate an art studio into the rooming house for the women to use. “ I really like making art that has a message and makes you think,” Howard says. “I want to start making art that reflects this community. They also have an art walk in Edmonton and the women could show their work.”

Shadow Puppets and a Rogue Imagination. Artwork by Chynna Howard.

Howard is also an avid reader. She is currently reading “Starlight Tour” by Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud, the story of Neil Stonechild and the ‘Starlight Tours’ in Saskatoon. Howard claims it is a must-read for all Canadians. She enjoys listening to Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in the midst of a busy life.

When I met Howard, I had this feeling that she was one of those beautiful people that seem to be put on the planet to make it a better place. I had once heard the term ‘indigo child’ used to explain people who have an almost ethereal power to rid our society temporarily of its ugliness, and leave it with just a little more beauty. That is most definitely Chynna Howard and the future success of ‘Jill’s Place’ will surely help many women in need.

“Let’s Talk Housing” report leaves many wondering what’s next

Affordable housing in Canada is in a state of crisis. Every year, more than 150,000 Canadians stay in an emergency shelter and 35,000 people are homeless each night. Considering the housing problem across the country, what is the federal government doing about it?

On National Housing Day on Tuesday, a report was released by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), based on of four months of consultation from 7000 Canadians. The report detailed various themes including affordable housing, indigenous issues, and funding of the housing strategy from a variety of stakeholders.

Though the report discussed a variety of important issues in Canada, it didn’t describe any concrete solutions to the housing crisis currently plaguing the country. It laid out a variety of housing issues that need to be solved, and was vague in scope when providing answers. The long-awaited report from months of consultations mostly gathered data from the online survey that was provided, which also asked vague questions such as whether low-income or sustainable housing was more important. It is now clear that the report seems to be more of a tool of distraction than to actually begin the process of providing affordable and sustainable housing solutions.

The report assessed how Canadians feel about housing across the country, which is useful for research though doesn’t begin to solve concrete housing issues. Social housing renewal, which consists of paying to fix current social housing, was ranked in the top four themes in every province and territory except Yukon, where it was instead voted as the least important issue. ‘Housing that contributes to Canada’s climate changes goals’ was ranked as the least important theme across the country. Interestingly, the survey response rate in Alberta and B.C far exceeded the overall population proportion where as in Ontario and Quebec it was the opposite. This indicates that the western provinces had a more responsive population per capita than Ontario and Quebec. Finding housing for vulnerable Canadians was voted as a top issue and will be a key commitment in the coming housing strategy.

Unfortunately, in the ‘Next Steps’ section of the report, little was offered to the public as to which ideas will be adopted. Instead, the 10 year housing strategy is due to be released in 2017 in time for the federal budget. This leaves many affordable housing associations in a limbo in the meantime while they wait for the government to make final decisions on which strategies will be adopted under the housing umbrella. The #letstalkhousing campaign and the resulting report left many disappointed because of its lack of direction towards next steps for the future of the housing crisis in Canada.

As a housing and sustainability reporter, it is frustrating to see how slowly the federal housing agenda is moving in developing a 10-year strategy. Homelessness and a lack of low-income housing is a key issue and needs to be a top priority in Canada. Immediate solutions are needed such as providing the much needed $1.7 billion to begin fixing homes that are falling apart under the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) and allowing municipalities to use dedicated funding to finding new housing solutions now instead of next year.

Though consultations and public participation are important, it should be a priority to make concrete decisions alongside collecting data instead of waiting so long to start making changes for Canadians desperate to find homes. The housing crisis needs to be dealt with in a more timely fashion, and hopefully in the meantime cold Canadians on the street can keep themselves warm with the pages of the housing report.

Is regulating Airbnb the answer to housing crisis?

Without a doubt, rental housing in Toronto is a problem, but are short-term rentals the cause?

The City of Toronto is investigating short-term rentals such as Airbnb, Flip Key and Roomorama to see whether these temporary stays are taking available homes away from people who live in Toronto. In Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting, the council voted to report back with recommended regulations in Spring 2017.

What is in the city report?

The Executive Committee wants to create a database that provides a breakdown of every service provider and unit type, including a list of landlords running short-term rentals. The city also wants to look into cases of sexual violence in short-term stays, safety standards, and working conditions for employees. The city will look into regulating and possibly restricting temporary rentals through zoning bylaws and licensing. Another solution presented in the study is to tax companies such as Airbnb and similar businesses as hotels.

Currently, Airbnb has 9,460 units or rooms in Toronto that were rented in 2015. These rooms were run by 7,320 hosts. Sixty-eight per cent of the rentals are held in apartments and the rest consist of a single room rental. This shows that not all rentals are taking up entire residences, but also include single rooms in people’s primary homes. Research also determined that 68 per cent of rentals were hosted by people who owned a single home and 37 per cent of short-term rentals were owned by people with more than one house. The high average of people who are renting from their primary residence also shows that not many people in Toronto are trying to make a business from Airbnb, but instead use it as a way to make extra money if they are not staying in the home.

How is Airbnb reacting?

Airbnb has released a report to refute the claims that the City of Toronto needs to regulate their short-term rental stays. Airbnb report says there are 8,200 active participants using the short-term rental program, which accounts for o.7 per cent of Toronto’s housing market. The company also relayed that 46 per cent of the rentals were less than 30 days annually. This shows that people most likely use Airbnb to rent out their homes while they work abroad or are on vacation. Airbnb proves that it differs from a hotel service because most hosts are only using the service occasionally rather than as a principal business. Airbnb also pointed out that the typical home listing earned $6.650 in the last year, which would divide into $550 per month. A long-term rental would make a landlord substantially more money, which further shows that hosts are not using the Airbnb service in place of renting out their home to a possible tenant.

How are other cities approaching Airbnb?

Other cities have adopted regulation approaches, with the most extreme being New York having outright banned short-term rentals. Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia have introduced regulations that ensure short-term rental hosts pay hotel and sales taxes for using the service. Chicago, London and San Francisco have put a cap on the number of nights per year that a property can be rented short-term. Vancouver is also in the process of introducing regulations to license short-term rentals that will allow an unlimited number of stays as long as it is the principal residence of a host.

Toronto is set to regulate temporary rentals in Spring 2017, although the details are still unknown. Licensing the various business ventures could have its merits, but restricting short-term rentals to avert the housing crisis will not work. By mandating that a host only use their principal residence, and limit the number of nights for short-term stay, it ensures that a host is not using their own home as a hotel, but is instead trying to make an extra buck when they are away from work. On the other hand, strict measures such as banning or taxing short-term rentals prevents people living in an expensive city like Toronto from profiting from their already pricey homes. Either way, the housing crisis remains and focusing on controlling short-term rentals seems to be merely a distraction from the lack of affordable housing that plagues Toronto’s future.

When will the minimum wage reflect reality?

Earlier this month, the Ontario government announced an increase to the minimum wage from $11.25 to $11.40.

In a statement, Kevin Flynn, Ontario Minister of Labour, said that “our government understands that cost(s) of living increases every year. In order to help families keep up, we’ve tied the minimum wage to increases in inflation, putting more money into the pockets of Ontario workers each year.”

And man, have they ever helped! An extra 15 cents! Ontario residents should be pleased, over the moon even. Ever dreamed of owning a car, being able to take your family on trip, or even just splurging on a movie once a week? Well, now you still won’t be able to do it, but you are closer to to the dream, right?

Let’s do some simple math.

Assuming you are a full-time worker (40 hours a week) living off of minimum wage, this will increase your bi-weekly salary to $912 — before taxes of course. That means your annual income prior to taxes is about $23,712.

The average cost of an apartment in a city like Toronto is approximately $1,500, which means that over $17,000 of that money will be spent on rent, not including amenities like hydro or Internet. Groceries are an extra one to two thousand dollars a year depending on how big your family is and how hungry you plan on being.

Of course, then there are medical bills, transportation costs, and cell phone charges. But hey, you got a raise, so not to worry.

The problem with these minimum wage hikes is that it is tied to inflation, as was explained by the honourable minister of labour. Canada’s workforce is expected to be grateful with this small pay increase, but in reality, it’s not going to help. And pretending it will is extremely dangerous.

While the price of labour increases with inflation, so does the cost of goods. This means that a minimum wage rises at a similar interval as the cost of bread and will do nothing to alleviate the poverty rate.

If the government really wants to make a difference, it will work towards raising the minimum wage to a level that allows families to live in a sustainable way.  Society needs workers who perform these minimum wage jobs, and they should be paid accordingly. Minimum wager earners work hard, with no benefits or security. And yet they are rewarded with a dismal pay cheque.

No one should have to choose between a roof over their head or groceries for the month. Ontario CAN do better and it’s time the government seriously and actively considers a higher minimum wage.

 

Minimum Wage in Canada*

  • Ontario: $11.40
  • Alberta: $12.20
  • British Columbia: $10.85
  • Manitoba: $11.00
  • New Brunswick: $10.65
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: $10.50
  • Northwest Territories: $12.50
  • Nova Scotia: $10.70
  • Nunavut: $13.00
  • Prince Edward Island: $11.00
  • Quebec: $10.75
  • Saskatchewan: $10.72
  • Yukon: $11.07

 

*According to the Government of Canada.

My apartment was infested with cockroaches. The housing crisis is real.

When I tell people my home was infested by cockroaches, I get a variety of reactions. Some people shrug their shoulders and tell me that is a common problem in Toronto and other people shiver in disgust. Anyone who understands the difference between one or two cockroaches and a full-blown infestation immediately gives me a hug and asks what I need. Just in case you don’t know, let me explain.

The word “infest” means “to invade in large number, causing damage or hardship.” To me, it means seeing over one hundred cockroaches climb into every one of my things while I try to get what remains out of the house. It means losing a substantial portion of the things I worked hard for and loved. It means war between man and beast — and let me tell you the cockroach always survives.

The apartment in question is in Parkdale on Spencer Avenue. Parkdale is a complicated neighbourhood, with a population ranging from wealthy families in turn-of-the-century homes to low-income people surviving in dilapidated apartment buildings.  It is known as a low-income neighbourhood with a plethora of problems. One of the main issues is affordable housing.

The affordable housing waitlist in Toronto stands at 90,000 households, despite the failed attempt at building 10,000 affordable homes per year, originally introduced in the Housing Opportunities Toronto Action Plan 2010-2020. As for affordable housing that does exist, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation has a $2.6 billion backlog in repairs. A lot of other housing is rent-controlled, which this leaves tenants in a vulnerable position if they have a bullish landlord who wants them out to raise the rent.

The housing situation in Toronto is in crisis and what is the result? Children, adults and seniors living in pest-infested housing, myself included.

City Councillor Gord Perks of Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park sees the struggles within his ward.“Every tenant is being ignored. Their voices have not been heard at Queen’s Park,” Perks says. “Oftentimes, people with rental control are being muscled out of their units. The landlords aren’t happy about people who are rent controlled of course. They are trying to get above guidelines by allowing cockroaches to persist, and not doing repairs properly so people leave. Then they can put a fresh coat of paint on and jack up the rent.”

Large apartment building companies own many of the buildings in the area and it is well-known that landlords hold much power in Toronto. This leaves tenants in a vulnerable and disempowered position to demand better living conditions in these buildings. Children live in poverty-stricken housing barely five kilometers from Queen’s Park and City Hall.

Why is it that the affordable housing crisis hasn’t been solved in Toronto?

“None of the levels of government have fixed that problem. The prime minister, premier, and mayor think they can solve the problem without collecting more taxes from the population,” Cheri Dinovo, MPP for Parkdale-High Park says. “For example, we have a significant stock of Toronto community housing units in Parkdale. The CEO of community housing has said that he does not have enough money to maintain standards.”

The problem comes down to a lack of funding. It also is the result of the three levels of government passing the affordable housing agenda in Toronto back and forth like a hot potato nobody wants. Many solutions have been presented including Section 37, the Open Door program, Inclusionary zoning (IZ), Landlord Licensing, and rent control. None of these have yet solved the housing crisis.

Part of the reason for the lack of success of any affordable housing program is due to squabbling between different levels of government. The provincial government reintroduced their affordable housing bill Wednesday, including inclusionary zoning that would mandate a percentage of affordable housing in all new condo developments. The City of Toronto adamantly rejects inclusionary zoning in place of Section 37, mandating developers provide mandatory funding for community projects. But, a provincial law states it cannot be used in conjunction with IZ.

In truth, all of these options should be adopted to help obtain affordable housing as quickly as possible. “There is a whole host of tools we should be dealing with to help the housing crisis-because that is what it is- and we are not,” Perks says. “There is a middle line that has to be met. Inclusionary zoning is absolutely essential. It is the only tool that is working in municipalities, but they need to be able to invoke section 37 to build infrastructure. Otherwise, there is a danger that the section 37 will creep into funding for new affordable housing.” The provincial government and Toronto city council need to come to an agreement and find middle ground for both laws. Otherwise, people will continue to live in unacceptable conditions.

When I walk down the street in Parkdale, I don’t see people that deserve to live in cockroach-infested homes. I see a diverse and thriving population of families, and a community from far and wide who have come together to live in a neighbourhood overflowing with culture. I see children who deserve to have a clean home where they don’t get respiratory illness in the winter or feel like they can’t have friends over because their apartment building is in such a state of disrepair.

When landlords try to take advantage of people who can’t afford high-end housing, I wish they could see these are real people, not so different from their own mother or brother. I wish the City Council and the provincial government could stop fighting and see that these are the lives of families that are being played with. We need change now. I can only hope that the housing waitlist will disappear and poverty-stricken living conditions will become a thing of the past.