Toronto's Rental Crisis Threatens Our Social and Economic Fabric

Published April 4, 2017 in the Toronto Star:  https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/04/04/torontos-rental-crisis-threatens-social-economic-fabric-opinion.html

Toronto's Rental Crisis Threatens Our Social and Economic Fabric

By Ana Bailão and Josh Matlow

No Torontonian should be forced to choose between paying the rent and buying groceries which is the unfortunate choice too many residents of our city are forced to make every month. As the Chairs of the Tenant Issues and Affordable Housing Committees we have heard from too many individuals that are being squeezed out of our city.

These are not isolated stories and the challenges of finding a decent and affordable place to live are affecting people across the rental spectrum in all areas of the city.

Rents are rapidly rising and on the turnover from one tenant to the next, units are frequently being rented to the highest bidder. Due to a historically low vacancy rate of 1.3%, and a lack of new purpose-built rental supply, more and more residents are finding themselves precariously housed by renting condominiums.

Despite the ongoing construction of new condominiums, there remains a major shortage of homes that people can afford. The rental situation has now become critical and it is increasingly affecting the social and economic success of Toronto. Many residents are being priced out of the housing market, threatening the city's ability to attract investment, good jobs, and maintain social cohesion.

We can help address the supply challenge at the municipal level by creating opportunities to increase the amount of purpose-built rental supply, support the collection of better data, leverage innovative funding and financing models, ensure as many residential units as possible are on the market and encourage the creation of secondary suites such as laneway suites.

The other issue that needs to be addressed is the Residential Tenancies Act. As a result of market pressures and a lack of protection for renters living in a unit built after 1991, some tenants in condominiums have reported price gouging through annual rent increases between 10% and 50%. This challenge has contributed to a rise in condo apartment rents averaging close to $2,000 per month.

While the "1991 exemption" enacted by the Mike Harris government in 1997 was meant to spur an increase in rental housing construction by allowing unrestricted yearly rent increases, it has largely failed to increase the amount of purpose-built rental supply.

On the other hand, residents in pre-1991 buildings that supposedly were protected are faced with rent increases above the guideline to pay what is in reality the cost of doing business. These are just some of the challenges that need to be addressed and that have created a two-tiered tenant and landlord system that must be fixed.

We are pleased that the Minister of Housing has responded to calls to review of the Residential Tenancies Act. The new reality in the rental market was not anticipated twenty years ago and needs to be reflected through updated Provincial legislation with fair, balanced and predictable regulations for everyone.

The time has now come for non-profit, community and private-sector organizations to work with all levels of government and governmental agencies to tackle the rental housing crisis and prevent the hollowing out of our city.

As a first step, we are hosting an unprecedented joint meeting of our two committees today at City Hall to take a holistic look at rental affordability in Toronto. This will allow us to take stock of what is happening in Toronto's rental housing market and hear first-hand from the public and stakeholders most affected.

With everyone working together, we can move forward with concrete recommendations to help ensure that all Torontonians have access to a safe, clean, and affordable home.

Josh Matlow is the City Councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul's and the Chair of the Tenant Issues Committee

Ana Bailão is the City Councillor for Ward 18, Davenport and the Chair of the Affordable Housing Committee

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