While the wait list for social housing in Toronto increases, the number of units available doesn't

Back in December, Toronto councillors voted to use 11 city-owned surplus plots of land to build new affordable housing — something that is much needed in a city with more than 105,000 people on the waitlist in Q4 2018; one where most of the affordable housing units were built in the late 80-90s.

It’s difficult to estimate how many affordable housing units are in the city because of a patchwork of multiple waitlists, but most belong to Toronto Community Housing as either geared-to-income (30 percent of monthly household income before tax), affordable or market rent units. But, a housing market analysis report produced by the city in February explains the need for more affordable housing, finding that:

  • Between 2016 and 2031, Toronto’s population will grow 24 percent to 3.5 million people, including 695,308 seniors and 44,318 long-term care citizens

  • By 2031, the affordable housing waitlist will increase 29.6 percent to 119,251

  • From 2016 to 2041 Toronto’s population will grow 36 percent to 3.9 million people, including an 89 percent increase of seniors to 828,064 and 67,356 people requiring long-term care

  • The waitlist for affordable housing will grow to 135,626

Toronto already has a housing program called “Open Door” that was introduced in 2016 in an attempt to speed the construction of more affordable housing. It aims to provide financial contributions, property tax breaks and faster permit approvals to developers in exchange for including more affordable units — but there’s been no uptick in the number of affordable units being built. The current definition used by the city is 100 percent of the average market rent, something activists are calling for a review of to ensure people aren’t forced from the city.

Waitlist numbers for Toronto Community Housing, per quarter

But an analysis of the program, as reported by the Toronto Star, proves that it has failed to make even minimal impact in the housing market and shockingly, none of the projects approved under the program were completed as of July, 2018. During his mayoral campaign, John Tory promised to build 40,000 units within the next 12 years as part of his “Housing Now” plan, but it’s unclear how this would be different from the current plan or how it would actually incentivize developers to include affordable units.

While we’re talking about numbers, here’s a few others (thanks to the same housing report mentioned above):

  • In Toronto, it takes between 11-27 for the average person to save up enough for a 10 percent down payment on a median-price home

  • There is only one affordable unit for every four low-income households (less than $30,000 in annual income) — an additional 30,000 (with rents less than $833 per month, according to our own calculation) are required to supply enough for even half the amount needed

An ACORN Canada report put this whole mess into a better perspective: in Toronto and East York, around 40,000 units have been built since 2014, but only 2.5 percent — approximately 1 in 40 units — were affordable rentals.

Between 1971 and 1996 an average of 13,000 social housing units were added during each five-year period, before the responsibility for social housing was handed to the city, according to a housing market analysis. If these numbers had remained stagnant, there would have been more than 135,000 units in 2016, reducing the waitlist significantly and with the newly promised 40,000 new units, by the mid 2030s, Toronto would have a waitlist of only a few thousand.

The biggest issue with a lack of affordable housing is that it does no good for anybody. Homeless shelters are already at or above capacity and the unaffordability of rent in Toronto has become a chronic issue, and it seems like the city is finally realizing that its current methods aren’t working well enough. Housing is something that you can think of as either a cycle or a web: all the parts (homelessness, shelters, mental health centres, healthcare, social housing) are all directly related to each other and without one, the others cannot succeed. Without the necessary support in place for people to actually get out of a shelter and into a home, they’re going to keep returning to the shelter.

📸: Wikimedia 📈: Toronto Progress Dashboard, ACORN Canada