Almost half of Toronto tenants are paying too much in rent and are one health emergency or lost job away from losing their homes, in a city where rental rules favour profits over people, according to a new study.
Where Will We Live? Ontario’s Affordable Rental Housing Crisis, released Tuesday by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, found that 46.9 per cent of Toronto renter households are spending 30 per cent or more of their income on rental costs and that a tenant would have to earn $24 an hour to comfortably pay the going rate.
The 30-per-cent line is a common benchmark used to determine if rental housing is in fact affordable, or if tenants will have enough to afford a decent quality of life once their rent is paid.
In Toronto last year, the average rent for a one-bedroom condominium was about $1,800, while the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $1,200, according to the report, which analyzed rental rates from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., as well as demographics and cost of living.
“It is worse than it looks from these figures,” said Kenn Hale, director of advocacy and legal services at the advocacy centre. “These are not the average rents of units that are available, these are average rents of units that are occupied.”
Ontario landlords can charge whatever they want for empty apartments, and unless the rules are changed the number of affordable units will continue to shrink, Hale said.
“It is extremely difficult and getting worse,” said Hale.
With a provincial election looming June 7, the study also contains recommendations for candidates on how to better protect Ontario tenants. Included in their list: the creation of more affordable, purpose-built rental homes; new social housing and the preservation of existing stock; recognizing housing as a legal right; and decreasing financial incentives for landlords that result in them pushing out existing tenants.
The advocacy centre is also calling for all candidates to commit to cost-matching any money put forward by the federal government, as part of the national housing strategy, a 10-year, $40-billion plan created with the goal of lifting 530,000 families out of unaffordable and substandard housing and reducing chronic homelessness by 50 per cent.
Hale said continuing to allow landlords to put whatever price they want on empty units will only encourage landlords to push out lower-income tenants and contribute to rising rental rates across the province.
“There is really no reason to it, other than to allow landlords to charge more rent and make more money,” Hale said. “There is nothing in it for tenants and nothing in it for society at large.”
Part of the problem is a lack of available apartments. Toronto’s vacancy rate for one-bedroom apartments was at about 1 per cent last year. Purpose-built rental units, or apartments that were designed strictly as rental stock, have counted for less than 9 per cent of new homes built across the province since the 1990s, the authors reported.
Groups representing landlords have warned that telling property owners exactly what they can charge could backfire, or result in less rental housing. The Federation of Rental-housing Providers of Ontario, in the build-up to a provincial decision to eliminate an exemption that allowed landlords in buildings built after 1991 to freely raise the rent, argued that rent control was not the solution to the city’s affordable housing issues and that clamping down put development dollars at risk.
A dearth of affordable rental housing was why Barb Livesay moved to Parkdale about four years ago. She became a member of tenant advocacy group Parkdale Organize last year, after her landlord told residents that their rent would be going up 3 per cent each year, over three years, to cover the cost of repairs.
“We can’t afford the increases in rent that the landlords are asking for and we know the government won’t do anything about it,” said Livesay, 59, who relies on the Ontario Disability Support Program and Canada Pension Plan to pay about $800 for a bachelor apartment.
Livesay ended up taking part in what was dubbed a “rent strike,” where tenants withheld their rent and held public rallies to protest that proposed increase. The landlord eventually agreed not to raise the rent.
Everybody should have access to affordable housing, said Livesay.