toronto housing market

This is how bad Toronto's housing market got over the past decade

The city of Toronto has undergone countless changes over the course of the decade — and though many of them have impacted the city for the better, there's no question that years of austerity have created an affordable housing crisis that has made the city unaccessible and unaffordable for many. 

A new report from Social Planning Toronto outlines exactly how bad things have gotten and the factors that facilitated the housing crisis currently plaguing the city. 

Toronto After a Decade of Austerity: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly aims "to take stock of Toronto at the end of the '10s, so that we may learn from the past and chart a new path forward."

The report focuses on three key factors: housing, public transit and child care. 

"There is one common denominator that unites all of these issues, and that is proper funding. By all means, the City of Toronto and every order
of government should do all it can to improve our communities using existing resources — but that’s not going to build a better city," report author Beth Wilson, SPT’s senior researcher and policy analyst, wrote.

"Years of austerity budgets illustrate the point; years of doing more with less have left us with deepening challenges, widening inequities, and mounting crises in our communities."

As most would expect, the housing section offers a particularly bleak picture of a city that has failed to invest in much-needed affordable housing options.

According the report, the wait list for social housing has grown by 51.9 per cent over the decade. The wait list for supportive housing has almost quadrupled, and the city has met it's shelter occupancy standard (90 per cent capacity) zero times. 

The report also indicates that data from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s annual Rental Market Survey shows average rents have risen by 39.8 per cent for bachelor units, 33.7 per cent for one-bedrooms, 31.6 per cent for two-bedrooms, and 23.6 per cent for three-bedrooms between 2010 and 2018.

In comparison, the inflation rate over the same time period was only 13.62 per cent.

"The cracks in our society that have widened over the past decade are due to a perfect storm of rising income inequality, lack of investment by the feds and the province, and political commitments to austerity budgets at the municipal level," said Devika Shah, SPT’s executive director, in a statement.

"Imagine what our city would look like now if we hadn’t starved it of resources for a decade. Austerity didn’t keep our city working, let alone build it, and there aren’t nearly enough efficiencies to get us out of this crisis."

The report notes that "vacancy rates for available rental units have been at historic lows, making it hard for renters to find a place to live, much less an adequate and affordable home."

Housing experts consider a healthy vacancy rate to be somewhere between 3 and 5 per cent.

Over the course of the decade, Toronto’s vacancy rates have remained well below that threshold. Instead, recent rates are posted at 1.6 per cent for bachelor units, 1.2 per cent for one-bedrooms, 0.9 per cent for two-bedrooms, and 1.2 per cent for three-bedrooms. 

As well, the total number of new affordable units built over the course of the decade — approximately 4,093 new affordable rental homes were completed between 2010 and 2019 — is described as "hardly a drop in the bucket compared to the real need."

The report also notes that affordable rents are based on average market rental costs which remain out of reach for many households. This means that in the end, many of the units constructed were not actually affordable for low-income households

The report was intentionally released ahead of the city's 2020 budget in order to see what must change going forward into the new decade. It also provides suggestions for concrete solutions. 

In order to increase funding for much-needed housing, transit and child care projects, the report recommends increasing the Municipal Land Transfer Tax for luxury homes, re-introducing the Vehicle Registration Tax, and introducing a Vacant Home Tax.

Wilson estimates that the Vacant Home Tax alone could generate tens of millions for Toronto.

Vancouver implemented an Empty Homes Tax back in 2017 and it raised almost $80 million in its first two years for affordable housing programs. 

"Mayor Tory’s recent move to increase property taxes to fund transit and housing is an important first step to building a more caring city,” notes Shah, "but these data starkly illustrate that so much more is needed. We need council to do the right thing and choose to invest in our collective well-being with new revenue tools."

Lead photo by

Jason Cook

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