Toronto Star Op-Ed: Ottawa must step in to stop aggressive erosion of affordable housing by corporate landlords
Posted August 21, 2023
The massive acquisition of affordable, private-rental housing stock by corporate landlords is quickly eroding housing that is relatively affordable.
There are many factors leading to Canada’s housing crisis, but one that is clearly exacerbating it is the massive acquisition of affordable, private-rental housing stock by corporate landlords, which is quickly eroding housing that is relatively affordable.
New data from CMHC, the federal housing agency, shows that the share of units that are affordable for low-income households is less than five per cent in major centres, one per cent in Vancouver, and almost zero per cent in Ontario cities. The April 2023 National Housing Council report noted that we are losing affordable housing much faster and in much greater quantities than it is being built. More than 550,000 affordable housing units were lost between 2011 and 2021, while the $70-billion National Housing Strategy had a target to produce only 150,000+ new affordable units over 10 years from 2017.
Moreover, the report shows that most of the new housing created with billions of public dollars through the National Housing Strategy, a key government program to deliver government commitments on housing, has failed to cater to those who are in core housing need. A household is said to be in core housing need if its housing falls below at least one of the indicator thresholds for housing adequacy, affordability or suitability, and would have to spend 30 per cent or more of its total before-tax income to pay for the alternative local housing that attains all three housing indicator thresholds. CMHC data shows that 27 per cent of renters are in core housing need, 91 per cent of whom are facing affordability issues.
Many low- and moderate-income tenants live in apartment buildings built in the 1960s-70s that are somewhat affordable and therefore are most at risk of being acquired by corporate landlords.
Coast to coast, corporate landlords are buying affordable apartment buildings and then using tactics to extract as much value as possible from tenants by raising rents, displacing tenants through renoviction, demoviction and no-fault evictions, and neglecting repair and maintenance.
ACORN Canada, a national community union of low- and moderate-income tenants, released a report in 2022 that found tenants living in units owned by corporate landlords are likely to live with pests or mould, face unfair rent increases, and never see needed or quality work done, especially if they are long-term tenants. Lack of any form of rent control in provinces such as Alberta and New Brunswick, and inadequate rent control in provinces like Ontario, provide a massive financial incentive to landlords by legally allowing them to raise the rent by exorbitant amounts once a long-term tenant is evicted.
Tenants have seen their corporate owners change hands so many times that people have lost count, and many tenants don’t even know who their landlord is. Furthermore, the moment a new corporate landlord takes over, there are a slew of changes tenants need to grapple with, such as new systems of submitting maintenance requests, and new charges dumped on to them such as parking, locker, AC fees, etc.
Recently, the National Housing Council, an advisory body to the federal minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, set up its first-ever review panel to study the financialization of purpose-built rentals. The financialization of rental housing refers to a process in which rental housing properties are transformed into a product for financial investment. Work by ACORN and several other research partners who contributed to a series of reports underscored the devastating impact of financialization of housing, specifically on low- and moderate-income tenants, Black renters and long-term-care homes.
We need urgent steps by the federal government to save Canada’s affordable rental housing market by creating ways that rental housing can become community-owned on a large scale.
To make our housing community-owned, we need the federal government to give the right of first refusal on apartment-building purchases to land trusts, co-ops, tenants and non-profits, and to create an acquisition fund to give these entities the financial backing to purchase the buildings.
Given record inflation, skyrocketing rents and the urgent need for housing that is affordable for people on low and moderate incomes, the new minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities needs to stop this aggressive erosion of affordable housing by predatory landlords.
Written by Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, who is chair of the East York Chapter in Toronto and is also a national leadership representative for ACORN Canada. Laretta Young has been a long-time member of ACORN, a national community union of low- and moderate-income people.