We Can't Wait: Preserving Our Affordable Rental Housing in Ontario

Anyone renting a home in Ontario’s major urban centres knows all too well how expensive rents have become. For the majority of renters living on low to middle incomes, rents have climbed so high that daily sacrifices have to be made and major expenses put off just to keep a roof over their head. Those searching for a new rental home today are faced with skyrocketing rents that are unaffordable. Even rental homes that were traditionally more affordable, like basement apartments, are advertised at almost the same price as a unit in an apartment building. With vacancy rates at all-time lows across most major cities in Ontario, affordable rental options are scarce. Many renters who secured a rental home with somewhat affordable rents a few years ago are holding dearly to their unit as they know that losing their home means paying a much higher rent for a new place. This can mean putting up with landlord neglect, disrepair or harassment as losing one’s home is not an option.

As shown in this report, average rents have rapidly increased across Ontario as the supply of affordable units has decreased. Since 2006, Ontario has witnessed a 26% decline in units that rent for less than $1000 for a 1-bedroom. Meanwhile there has been a sharp 87% increase in units that rent for $1000 to $1500 and a 36% increase in luxury rentals with rents above $1500. This picture is even more bleak for almost half of Ontario’s tenants who live in Toronto. Since 2006, Toronto has witnessed a drastic 36% decline in units that rent for less than $1000 for a 1-bedroom. But expensive rentals are growing, with a 51% increase in units renting for $1000 to $1500 and a shocking 323% increase in luxury rentals with rents above $1500. The rapid increase in rents cannot be due solely to regular rent guideline increases. These soaring rents are likely a result of developers’ focus on building condos and luxury rentals that yield much higher profits alongside the negative effects of vacancy decontrol that allows landlords to increase rents at any amount for new tenants of existing units.

In the past few years, both the Provincial and Federal governments have introduced plans to build more housing in Ontario. The results of these efforts is yet to be seen. It will take years for housing to be built in our major cities, but for the renter population struggling daily, waiting for new rental housing is no longer an option. Much of what has been built is “affordable” for upper middle income earners - not the majority of tenants.

While we applaud the Federal government for re-entering the housing market in 2017 with the National Housing Strategy, we can’t wait for the housing to be built. The Ontario government’s Housing Supply Action Plan announced in 2019 is making it easier for developers to build more housing, but we can’t wait for the private sector to decide whether they will build the affordable housing we need. We are still waiting to learn about the details of Ontario’s Community Housing Renewal Strategy.

We must preserve our affordable rental housing, now. With every month that passes, rents soar to new heights. Renters are pushed to the brink of homelessness. Renters are living with the looming threat of losing their home. Housing precarity and unaffordability must not become the norm in Ontario. Because it is the low to middle income earners who shoulder this burden.

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