One of many people who told CBC Toronto rents just too high
SHANNON MARTIN SHOULDN’T HAVE HAD TO SLEEP ON COUCHES. She has a permanent job. She earns a good salary. Enough to pay $1650 a month in rent. But, it wasn’t enough to keep a roof over her head in Toronto. So, she had to depend on friends and family to put her up for a while.
“For the record, I did have a nice place,” she told CBC last year. “But then my rent went up nearly $1,000 per month.” A rent of $2600 a month was way, way more than she could afford. She became a homeless couch-surfer.
All too familiar
Shannon’s predicament is all too common. Rents in all our major cities have skyrocketed. They’ve been pushed up by a stratospheric increase in house prices. In Vancouver and Toronto, for example, average house prices have exploded to seven figure averages, which in turn have pushed rental prices in major cities beyond the reach of low-paid or precariously employed workers.
PadMapper’s Canadian Rent Report found that in Vancouver, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in April was $2,100. This is more than the $1,863 total income minimum wage workers in BC take home each month. A two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver costs $3,200.
Toronto’s average rent for a one-bedroom was $2,080 between January 2017 and January 2018. The average take home wage for minimum wage earners in Toronto is $2,063
High urban rents inevitably lead to high suburban rents. The median cost to rent a one-bed apartment in Burnaby, for example, a city on the outskirts of Vancouver, was $1,430 in January 2018. Two-bedroom apartments cost an average of $2,130, an increase of 15.6 percent from a year earlier.
No new public housing
Private speculation in the housing market, led by the big banks and investors, plays a big part in driving up housing prices. This is compounded by the fact that no government has undertaken a comprehensive public housing program in decades. As a result, the availability of affordable housing units is extremely low, causing greater competition and increased prices.
Global News reports that at least 140,000 families across Canada are on waiting lists for subsidized housing, including over 90,000 in Toronto alone. Some have been waiting as long as 10-12 years.
By 2021, the bulk of government operating agreements that provide subsidies to co-operatives, non-profit and public housing providers to house more than 540,000 families will come to an end, dramatically affecting many of these families.
Ontario has not built public housing since the early 1990s. In fact, in 2017, after years of neglect, 1,000 social housing units were closed—this, as more than 180,000 people fill waiting lists for homes they will never see.
A fundamental human right?
Governments across the country are not doing anything to take direct action to provide Canadians access to housing that meets their needs and that they can afford. The federal government stopped building social housing in 1989. Governments now rely exclusively on private housing developers to build what is referred to as “affordable housing.”
This reliance on the private sector is a key part of the national housing strategy released last November by the federal Liberal government. Something that will take 10 long years to implement—well beyond the federal government’s current mandate.
Meanwhile rents are so high, and supply so limited, that even the slightly lower costs of what is called “affordable” housing remain out of reach for most Canadians.
The consequence of such policies is that governments provide millions in subsidies to fatten the pockets of private housing developers, rather than using public funds to make long-term, sustainable investments in public housing stock.
The Trudeau Liberals promise to enshrine the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right in Canada is unlikely to make any practical difference to Shannon Miller and all the many thousands like her who continue their struggle with rents that have gone through the roof.
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