With a provincial election just days away, the housing crisis is top of mind for many. With each passing month, rental rates are soaring across the province. Compared just to this time last year, average rents for a 1-bedroom unit have increased almost 13% in Toronto, 15% in Burlington, 12% in Guelph, and almost 10% in Hamilton. Rents have risen in a province that already has some of the highest in the country.
Decades of austerity driven policy are forcing renters across Ontario to continuously try to make do with less. Wages, of course, have not kept pace with rising costs of living. A minimum wage of $15/hour still lags behind what Ontarians need to live. Experts have demonstrated a living wage should be much higher than that – in Toronto, for example, a living wage is $22.08/hr.
Some may blame the dire affordability crisis in Ontario solely on the pandemic. However, rental costs had been on the rise before the pandemic, just as wages had failed to keep up. The pandemic exacerbated the crisis, but it did not create it. What’s more, the pandemic has had widely differing impacts depending on wealth. The pandemic itself has been very, very kind to the most wealthy among us. A new report from OxFam International has found that “billionaires have seen their fortunes increase as much in 24 months as they did in 23 years,” and “the combined crises of COVID-19, rising inequality, and rising food prices could push as many as 263 million people into extreme poverty in 2022, reversing decades of progress. This is the equivalent of one million people every 33 hours.”
What does this global money grab look like in the context of Ontario?
Ordinary Ontarians are the ones being sacrificed in the name of profit as the financialization of housing continues – and renters are feeling the impacts most of all.
ACTO commissioned EKOS to conduct a province-wide poll of Ontario renters this month. We now have the results of the poll, and the findings are stark. Renters are being squeezed in an extreme affordability crisis that affects them in every single part of their lives, and very little is being done to help them.
No one, anywhere, should have to choose between food and shelter. And yet in Ontario, that’s exactly what we’re seeing – 60% of renters said they have had to cut back on food to afford their rents. 74% had to cut back on their other spending to afford their rents.
These soaring rental rates are pushing more people with lower incomes into very precarious financial situations. 65% of low-income renters would not be able to pay their rent over the next 3 months without taking on debt, should they lose their income.
Understanding poverty is not just about measuring household income – it means we also have to look at how much people can save and how long they can cover their basic costs if they were to lose their incomes. Anyone who pays 50% or more of their income towards their shelter is at a very high risk of becoming homeless. Ontario renters are balancing on a knife’s edge to stay housed.
Affordable options for renters are dwindling
Renters are struggling to stay in their communities. 1 in 3 renters have recently considered moving to a different municipality due to an increase of rental costs. This means uprooting them, their families, possibly their jobs – every part of their life just to find a home they can afford. Even for people who are considering sacrificing so much are discovering that rents remain unaffordable almost everywhere, and competition for what’s available remains fierce. Their options for affordable, safe and secure housing dwindle day-by-day.
The solutions are multi-faceted, but one place to start is bringing back real rent control
We can’t afford to wait. Interventions to make housing more affordable should have been made years ago. Focusing on supply-side solutions won’t do enough, quickly enough, to stop the free-fall into poverty and increased risk of homelessness people are facing. One thing that the province can do overnight is instate real rent control in this province. This means scrapping the failed 2018 exemption for rent control on new builds, and getting rid of the long-standing policy of vacancy decontrol.
Eliminating vacancy decontrol is a popular idea among renters. Over 80% of Ontario tenants believe there should be a limit to the amount landlords can increase the rent for a unit when it becomes vacant. We agree.
We encourage all Ontarians to reflect on their housing priorities, and look closely at each provincial party to see what’s on the table in this election. The stakes for renters could not be higher.