Toronto.com: Opinion: Ontario is missing real housing solutions
Posted April 21, 2022
Posted April 21, 2022
Ontario stands behind only British Columbia with respect to lack of affordable housing. ACORN has been door-knocking in low- to moderate-income communities since 2004 and lack of affordable and healthy homes is the topmost issue tenants across the province want to see changed.
The pandemic exacerbated the issues tenants have been facing, with many currently in desperate need of support. An ACORN survey (2022) showed 53 per cent of tenants in Ontario required financial support but did not qualify. A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) study showed 40 per cent of tenants in Ontario had less than one month of savings in 2020. Windsor closely followed by Toronto topped Ontario with respect to accumulated rental arrears, as per Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) data. Yet, no support from the provincial government to help struggling tenants, to date.
Worse still, the rents keep rising. Except for a very brief period when the rents supposedly dropped, there was no change in the rents for affordable rentals, and vacancy rates remained grossly low for these rentals. Rental.ca March 2022 report shows Ontario recorded one of the highest monthly rents of $2,118 per month, next to B.C.
The actions pursued by the government have only added to the problems, instead of offering any solutions.
The Landlord and Tenant board (LTB) stopped all in-person hearings as the pandemic hit. Hearings moved online — a feature now permanent with the province’s Accelerated Justice Strategy — with the government boasting the LTB is the first tribunal to implement the new system. However, several ACORN members have brought forth the devastating impact of these virtual hearings on tenants. Virtual hearings have only meant accelerated digital evictions.
Recently, the Affordability Housing Task Force formed by the government came out with a report that clearly said “affordable housing was not part of our mandate.” This gets reflected in the new housing legislation — More Homes for Everyone Act — for which the task force report forms the basis. Targeting only the homebuyers, it purports to help the “missing middle,” missing low- and moderate-income tenants entirely.
The act puts an overwhelming focus on building more and more housing as accelerating the housing supply is seen as the main issue behind the housing crisis.
But the affordability crisis is not a simple demand-supply problem. From 2011 to 2021, Ontario’s population grew by 10.7 per cent and the number of occupied private dwellings grew by 12.5 per cent. Further, as per the province’s own report, in 2021, Ontario had over 100,000 housing starts, the highest level since 1987, and more than 13,000 rental starts, the highest level in 30 years.
The completion rates have also been increasing. But the CMHC report says the stock of affordable housing for people who need it most saw a decline in 2021 in the GTA and the predominant reasons are demolition, condominium conversion and owner’s own use. On the other hand, the newer units entering the market in 2021 had a rental average of $2,222.
So, is merely increasing the housing supply the solution? As much it is about increasing the supply, it is also about increasing the supply of “affordable” housing — housing that meets the needs of tenants in core-housing need. Among provinces, Ontario has the highest rate of households in core-housing need at 15.3 per cent. The situation is far worse for tenants, with over 33 per cent in core-housing need.
Plus, we need to see real housing solutions. ACORN has been calling for a full rent control, including vacancy control as it incentivizes landlords to evict long-standing tenants and raise the rents. The government must implement a rent freeze, including above guideline rent increases — a common tactic to raise the rents. Stop digital evictions and, lastly, create a rent relief program for tenants at risk of eviction. The pandemic is not over.
Elections are coming. Will the government listen now?
ACORN members Norma-Jean Quibell, co-chair of West Nepean chapter in Ottawa; Liz Scott, chair of the Stoney Creek chapter in Hamilton; Sheila Farr, a member of the Etobicoke chapter of Toronto. ACORN Canada is an independent national organization of low-and-moderate income families with 140,000-plus members in 20-plus neighbourhood chapters across nine cities. Ontario ACORN has chapters in Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Peel and Toronto. For more information, please visit acorncanada.org.