breaking down the housing crisis
“We are absolutely in the middle of probably the worst housing crisis that we’ve ever had,” says Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Association (FMTA).
The rental housing crisis is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Politicians campaigned on it earlier this year, people protest about it, the news discusses it. To millennials, it has become the cynical centre of jokes revolving around the inability to find affordable housing in Toronto.
But with the conversation quickly becoming number driven and convoluted, it can be hard to keep up.
What is the housing crisis?
Dent explains that the rental housing crisis is characterized by two aspects.
According to mortgage and real estate broker Noreen Kho, this lack of housing is because Toronto is currently in a “seller market.”
Kho broke down the three types of markets:
There is supply but no demand. There are many units for potential renters to choose from, but it can be challenging for people trying to rent the spaces as there is not enough demand for units.
There is demand but no supply. Nothing available to rent so when a unit goes on the market, people jump on it. The seller market began between 2016-2017 and is currently ongoing.
When the supply and demand for units are in balance. There are enough units available for the people looking to rent. Kho believes that this is what the Toronto housing market is heading towards.
Kho explains that one of the main reasons we are currently in a seller market is because of the mortgage stress test, implemented by the Department of Finance in 2017.
This stress test makes it harder for homebuyers to qualify for a mortgage. Because it is harder to qualify, buying becomes unattainable and people rent instead. More people renting leads to a supply and demand issue.
Additionally, Dent says that the growth in Airbnb has only made the situation worse. According to him, Airbnb has pulled approximately 1200 units off of the market in the last 2-3 years.
How did we get here?
In 2018, the Ford government decided to scrap rent control in the province for new buildings. This means that if a tenant is already living in a unit, the rent can only go up a certain amount per year in correlation with the guideline amount. However, if the space is unoccupied, the landlord can raise the price to whatever they want.
This was done as an effort to create more housing by encouraging developers to build more rental units at the expense of affordable rent.
Dent explains that in 1997, the vacancy rent control program was scrapped. Vacancy rent control was initially put in place to ensure that landlords could not jack up the price of rent.
“It prevents the kind of rent escalation in Toronto right now.”
When it was cancelled, the government said that money would go towards construction of rental units. However, this never happened and many believe that the government decision in 2018 could be history repeating itself.
A landlords’ market
Dent explains that a large portion of the problem is that this is a “landlords’ market,” meaning that people are so desperate for a unit that landlords can break the rules.
“When you’re in a housing crisis,” Dent says, “People’s standards have to drop just to get a place.”
This creates “rampant abuse of the law by landlords,” Dent explains.
The FMTA website contains a hotline that tenants are able to call for information and counselling on tenants’ rights. Dent says that there has been an increase in calls about tenants’ being unable to afford rent and questions about their rights.
“A lot of landlords just ask for money and tenants don’t know the rules,” Dent says. “And they just pay it.”
Renters in Toronto
Mrinal Dhase is a full-time student and works part-time at a men’s clothier where she does styling and custom content for the company. Her estimated monthly income is $2000, half of which goes directly to her rent. She shares the apartment with one roommate and her cat.
For the $2000 price tag, the apartment has two bedrooms, one bathroom and a kitchen. There is no common space or living room.
Dhase says that the process of finding an apartment in downtown Toronto is nearly impossible and estimates that this is probably the tenth or eleventh apartment that she and her roommate looked at.
While there were other units that they liked closer to the financial district, they lost out because they are art and design students.
“We lost out on them because they kind of prefer people that are in professions like medical fields or ‘reliable professions’ because they want people who are going to stay for a couple of years which they don’t expect artists and designers to do”
Dhase explains that the landlords found out about her schooling and future profession because they asked her about the topic when looking at rental units.
This practice of asking for one’s occupation is discrimination and an illegal practice. But, as Dent says, this is a landlords’ market where the landlords are able to break the rules.
For Dhase’s full interview, click here.
Julia Marren graduated Ryerson University the year previous and is currently working at Shopper’s Drug Mart. While she is no longer in school, she is able to make about $800 a month. However, as she plans to go back to college in the coming year, she estimates that her income will drop to $200 a month.
Her monthly rent is split evenly with five other roommates with her share being $530, paid by her mother. The reason why her rent is so cheap in such a prime location is because she is lives in Neill Wycik, a student residence/ cooperative living.
“My brother told me about this place and was like, it’s not very good but it’s cheap,” Marren says. “I was so tired of commuting so I was like I’ll take Neill Wycik, I’ll just deal with it.”
A unique aspect of Neill Wycik is that you have to be a student to move into the building, but “once you’re in, you’re in forever. You can stay as long as you want,” Marren says.
While this is not a unit that Marren wants to remain in forever, it suits her needs now with its price and location.
Affordable housing is something she is concerned about for the future when she decides to move out of Neill Wycik. Her concerns echo what many students have said about the struggle of balancing a job and an education.
“It’s not probable for people like myself doing school full-time and then working part-time to be able to afford $2000 a month.”
Emma Stobo is a 20-year-old graphic design student. Although she is not currently working, she has a deal with her parents where they will pay for her apartment for the duration of university.
Her studio apartment comes with a high price tag but its location to school is something that Stobo values. Before she moved in four years ago, the people renting the apartment lived in “squalor.” Because of this, much of the apartment had to be renovated, but the washroom was not updated as much as it should have been, according to Stobo. She says,
“The bathroom is pretty disgusting. (…) It’s definitely one part of the apartment that’s really falling apart.”
Although the apartment has some problems, Stobo really likes her living space but knows it will probably be unaffordable to her budget once she graduates from university. She also believes that young people should begin to educate themselves more on the housing problem in Toronto.
“We are the ones who are going to be invading this space soon enough, so it’s important for us to start learning about it more.”
For Stobo’s full interview, click here.