Toronto social housing wait lists growing
TheStar.com – news/GTA
20 August 2012. Stephanie Findlay
Researchers are warning of a “serious affordable housing shortage” as the number on housing wait lists continues to climb, according to a report released Monday by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.
Households — single people, families and seniors — on waiting lists for affordable housing grew by 2.9 per cent to 156,358 in 2011.
Though this is less than in previous years, the number has decreased from 9.4 per cent in 2009 and 7.2 per cent in 2010, researchers say the lingering effects of the recession and high rents in metropolitan areas almost guarantee a high demand for affordable housing.
“We’re seeing some levels of recovery around the province, but for people who are living on low incomes they are still struggling,” said Margaret McCutcheon, policy researcher at ONPHA and author of the report.
Single people and childless couples under 65 formed the largest demographic seeking housing for the first time, with 58,995 households on the wait list.
“When you only have one income and rents are high, it’s very difficult to afford a bachelor apartment in some communities,” said McCutcheon.
The situation is worse in Toronto, where the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment is $1,149, higher than the national average of $883, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Those are prohibitively high numbers to many people. Average household income for tenants associated with Toronto Community Housing, one of the largest social housing providers in Canada, was $14,000 in 2008, and $16,155 in 2011.
The poor economy is not the only factor contributing to the demand for affordable units, the lack of rental units in the city is also making things difficult for low-income renters, said Steve Pomeroy, a housing policy consultant based in Ottawa.
Today, developers are less likely to build rental units than condos, which are more profitable to run, said Pomeroy.
“If you look at new construction over the last 15 years, less than 10 per cent has been for the rental housing market,” said Pomeroy. “There are fewer rental units available to people, and affordability issues become more acute.”
When the economy was booming 10 years ago, the shortage of rental units wasn’t apparent; people were buying houses, taking pressure off the rental market, he said.
However, since the recessionary period, fewer people have been buying homes, a result of incomes shrinking, unemployment rising and more strict mortgage laws introduced by the Bank of Canada, said Pomeroy.
Michael Shapcott, director of housing and innovation at the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based research centre, said the growing numbers on the wait list are troubling.
“We’re not the United States during the pre-civil war era, but we are unconsciously moving in the direction of the city that is moving away from a city of neighbourhoods and moving towards a Toronto that is divided, a Toronto that is segregated, a Toronto of the rich, and the poor,” said Shapcott.
“Ultimately, governments, especially the federal and provincial governments, have to realize affordable housing is not something they can download to the City of Toronto and offload to the private housing markets,” he said.
“We have to get governments back to the table as serious partners.”