“The rent is too damn high!” said Jimmy McMillan. That cry from a New York political party more than a decade ago even led to spots on Saturday Night Live. Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs had become the playing field for international investors.
In 2018, Torontonians list housing affordability as one of the biggest concerns. Our kids cannot afford to live in the neighbourhoods where they grew up. In fact, many are leaving the city. This spring, RBC economists said it takes over ¾ of a household’s income to buy a house in Toronto. Even the Toronto Board of Trade has now recognized that the rising cost of housing deters recruiting talent.
Those hoping to rent face a rental market driven by profiteering. “Affordable” is defined by the average mark rent – not the average income. Incomes are not keeping up with the ambitions of some landlords. The word “renovictions” has entered our vocabulary.
Municipal government can shape this trend in several ways. A coalition of over 50 housing providers and advocates have identified a number of strategies. I am happy to have been one of the early signers of the Toronto Housing Pledge.
That calls for:
- No more homeless deaths
- Financial stability for Toronto Community Housing
- Make "affordable housing" truly affordable
- Ensure new residential development includes everyone
- Mobilize Toronto's resources to build more affordable housing
These are grand ideas that have to be turned into action with specific tools. City Council has some of the concrete measures it can take to make housing more affordable, many of which I have worked on:
- Nonprofit housing
- Conversion of public land to affordable housing and other uses
- Community hubs with housing (imagine seniors housing with a childcare centre)
- Landlord licensing
- Inclusive zoning, second suites and laneway housing
- Speedier planning processes
I would continue this deep reform work and also champion some new areas:
- Toronto needs to expand our affordable and supportive housing stock. The City should prioritize nonprofit applications to build affordable housing. On the operating side, private market landlords currently receive higher rent subsidies than Rent-Geared-to-Income housing providers. I would work to equalize those payments.
- Too many tenants are living in substandard conditions; Toronto needs to expand, enhance and strengthen RentSafeTO. A stronger emphasis on enforcement of rental building inspections through Municipal Licensing & Standards will ensure tenants are living in housing that meets minimum legal standards. As this is self-financed, it does not add costs to the expense side of our City budget.
- Multi-residential homes are currently taxed at a commercial rate. What most people don't know is that (a) tenants in multi-residential buildings are paying these property taxes, and (b) they are higher than home owners' rates. As reductions are introduced, tenants are meant to be rebated the difference. The City must ensure these cost savings are passed back to tenants who pay them.
- Which book club hasn’t thought about living together as they age? A reform of zoning laws would allow housing co-sharing and gently increase neighbourhood densities. This would expand housing choices without requiring government capital financing.