Renters living in Ontario, especially in Toronto, desperately need more affordable rental housing options. In nearly all of Ontario’s largest cities, renters are unable to find an adequate and affordable place to call home. We have an affordable rental housing crisis – a result of rising rents, low vacancy rates (at their lowest in 15 years), and incomes that fail to keep up with housing costs. The situation is particularly critical for low- and moderate-income renters who make up almost half of Ontario’s renter households.
How do we ensure that renters have choices? For many people living on low and moderate incomes, finding a decent and affordable place to rent is like striking gold. Those that have found a somewhat affordable place know that if they move out, there’s nowhere to go.
We need a variety of rental options
Canada relies more heavily on the private market for its housing stock than most comparable countries. Ontario too follows this housing market structure. Yet, there is a persistent myth that low income households live in government subsidized housing. This is simply untrue. The vast majority of Ontario renters, including those on low and moderate incomes, pay rent to private landlords.
Any comprehensive solution to our affordable housing crisis must recognize the importance of rent-geared-to-income rentals in providing homes for low income households. We need governments to devote the necessary resources to building and maintaining social housing and provide housing for the growing numbers of households on the social housing waiting lists.
Public housing isn’t the right choice for you? Let’s look at the state of our affordable private rental housing. The majority of our rental housing stock was built in the 1960s and 1970s, when federal tax incentives encouraged construction of rental buildings. You know that apartment unit with the rent of $850 that many of us in Toronto salivate over? That was built more than 50 years ago!
Few purpose-built rental units have been developed over the past 25 years. In fact, less than 9% of all housing units built since 1990 were rentals. A major reason why we are in an affordable rental housing crisis is the stagnant supply of rental units, despite our population growth.
Almost all new sources of rentals in major cities like Toronto have been condo units. Condos are rented out at much higher prices than purpose-built rentals, and renters don’t have security of tenure. This means if the owner of your condo unit genuinely wants to move in, you have to pack up your bags and find somewhere else to call home. That’s a depressing reality.
“But what about all those purpose-built rental constructions in the past few years?” you might ask. I hear you and I’ve seen the numbers. But these have largely been high-end rental units that remain unaffordable for most renters. We need rental housing that is affordable for people at different income levels.
How do we move forward?
We need policies and incentives that support different forms of affordable rental housing. We need ongoing support for traditional types of deeply affordable rental housing like rent-geared-to-income housing. We need our governments to establish innovative partnerships with the private sector to build affordable rental housing that these businesses have no incentive to produce on their own. We need strong supports and funding for the non-profit housing sector. We need more innovative models for housing developments like co-op housing that guarantee perpetual affordability. And we need our governments to revise outdated land-use regulations that limit the development of new multi-residential housing.
The new National Housing Strategy (NHS) has offered some hope for renewed attention to the housing needs of renters. This opportunity cannot be wasted. The Ontario Liberal government made a commitment to match the funds offered by the NHS. Whichever party wins the Ontario election on June 7th must continue with this commitment. Low and moderate income households, families, and young people find themselves increasingly unable to find affordable and adequate housing in Ontario’s urban centres. The ongoing vitality and growth of our cities depends on the people living there. Ensuring that everyone has access to safe, adequate and affordable housing is a win for us all.