Finding a home for Ontario’s rent and housing reform – Ward 33 E-Blast April 27th

A few years ago, I spent some time with my wonderful sister-in-law and her husband in Vancouver. They know my municipal interests and always spend some time sharing Vancouver municipal issues with me.

While we were eating at my brother-in-law’s favourite sushi place in Yaletown, he pointed across the street to a brand new condo. “Look up,” he said, “count the empty units. Speculators don’t even bother to rent them out.”

The following year, I was back in town on business and spent an extra day with my sister-in-law. She drove me down to lovely Point Grey to show me the site of the waterfront trail issue that was erupting in Vancouver Council at the time. As we drove, she pointed out a couple of beautiful homes being left to rot by absentee offshore owners. Later, on the way to Kerisdale to visit my husband’s parents, she showed me two more rotting, empty homes built in vintage Vancouver craftsman style.

I raise these experiences to describe the difference between the Vancouver housing affordability crisis and Toronto’s. Vancouver has had a terrible problem for a very long time. It is more pronounced and it needed the urgent blunt instrument of the Foreign Buyer Tax. Having waited as long as they did to act, the tax has had a pretty severe initial impact on the market.

Here in Ontario, the Province has introduced a comprehensive package of 16 measures to cool the housing market while at the same time, expanding rent controls. A foreign buyer tax is one of them but all of the measures are designed to work together to bring about the desired cool down without a whole lot of undesired consequences. Time will tell.

Our problems here are slightly different than in Vancouver and despite how it may feel when you are bidding on the umpteenth house, it is still early days yet for our bubble-like market. Economists and real estate specialists that met with both the Premier and the Mayor of Toronto advised an approach that spreads out across the various components. This includes tax measures to address buyer profile, real estate sellers’ practice changes for an intensified market, and a range of measures and offsets to effect the rental world.

The 16 are listed here: 
16 housing measures Ontario announced to cool the market 

The City can contribute to positive change in the housing market in a variety of ways. The new landlord enforcement strategy I wrote about last month will help improve living conditions in rental apartment buildings. It starts July 1, 2017. Moreover, landlords of older apartment buildings will have their own reasons to pull up their socks in the future. One of the Provincial measures was to extend rent controls to all private rental situations. Over time, older building owners will find themselves in direct competition with modern building units. Why rent from a bad landlord in a sixties slab-apartment when newer buildings are just as stable with new rent controls and more strict on eviction rules?

We can also help the Province’s measures along if, in our own dealings with real estate and landlord bylaws and enforcement, the City takes a data analytics/open data approach. When we think about governments providing Open Data, people often conjure up images of millennial’s in garages creating high tech apps with publicly released data about transit, restaurant inspections, etc. But increasingly, the benefit of Open Data is turning out to be intergovernmental sharing of data so that we can learn from each other and then create complementary solutions to problems.

The province is tackling the immediate cost of housing through its measures and the City of Toronto is tackling housing conditions through new bylaws. So what is left and do residents really want us to solve it?

There is a follow-on effect to housing affordability. When housing becomes unaffordable at the top, new generations can not get in and pressure is placed on the rental market. Then the list of ‘hard to house’ grows and grows until the social housing system just can’t cope. What we urgently need is for new social housing units to be built, as well as affordable rental (which is not the same as social housing) and programs that provide affordable ownership starts.

In my view, all the types of housing starts I’ve listed above are good things to ask provincial and federal governments to partner with us to fund. However, you can not ask other orders of government for everything under the sun. It is time for residents to consider whether or not their City government should invest and do its own repairs. We are the sole shareholder of our social housing provider and we need to get on with addressing its deplorable state of repair.

One last thought for the children suffering most from our housing struggles in Canada, Ontario and most of all, Toronto. Starting May 1st, you can attend Hot Docs Film Festival and see a wonderful film about your neighbours who have been moved out of the Villaways TCHC Townhouses right here in Ward 33. The trailer and a review are included here: