Ontario lacks real housing solutions

Sheila Farr is a member of the Etobicoke Branch at Toronto ACORN.

Ontario is only behind British Columbia in the lack of affordable housing. ACORN has been knocking on the door in low- to middle-income communities since 2004, and the lack of affordable and healthy homes is the biggest problem tenants across the county want to see change.

The pandemic exacerbated the problems tenants were facing, with many currently in urgent need of support. An ACORN survey (2022) found that 53 percent of Ontario renters needed financial support but were ineligible. A survey by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) found that 40 percent of Ontario renters saved less than a month in 2020. Windsor, closely followed by Toronto, topped Ontario in terms of accumulated rent arrears, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) data. But so far no support from the provincial government to help tenants in trouble.

Worse, rents continue to rise. Except for a very short period when rents supposedly fell, there was no change in rents for affordable rental housing and the vacancy rate for these rental properties remained very low. Rental.ca report from March 2022 shows Ontario has registered one of the highest monthly rents of $2,118 per month, next to BC

Government action has only exacerbated the problems, rather than providing solutions.

The Landlords and Tenants’ Board (LTB) halted all in-person hearings when the pandemic hit. Hearings went online — a feature now permanent with the county’s accelerated judicial strategy — with the government boasting that the LTB is the first tribunal to implement the new system. However, several ACORN members have highlighted the devastating impact of these virtual hearings on tenants. Virtual hearings have only led to accelerated digital evictions.

Recently, the government-formed Affordability Housing Task Force issued a report that clearly stated that “affordable housing is not part of our mandate”. This is reflected in the new housing legislation – More Living for Everyone Act – for which the report of the task force forms the basis. It is aimed only at homebuyers and claims to help the ‘missing middle’, who are completely missing out on low- and middle-income renters.

The law places an overwhelming focus on building more and more housing, as accelerating the housing stock is seen as the main problem behind the housing crisis.

But the affordability crisis is not a simple supply-demand problem. From 2011 to 2021, Ontario’s population grew 10.7 percent and the number of occupied private homes grew 12.5 percent. Further, according to the province’s own report, Ontario had more than 100,000 housing starts in 2021, the highest level since 1987, and more than 13,000 rental starts, the highest level in 30 years.

Completion rates have also increased. But the CMHC report says the stock of affordable housing for people who need it most has dwindled in 2021 in the GTA, and the main reasons are demolition, condominium conversion and owner-occupancy. On the other hand, the newer units that hit the market in 2021 had a rental average of $2,222.

Is only increasing the housing supply the solution? As much as it is about increasing the supply, it is also about increasing the supply of “affordable” housing – homes that meet the needs of tenants in a core housing need. Ontario has the highest percentage of households with a need for core housing of the provinces, at 15.3 percent. The situation is much worse for tenants, with more than 33 percent in core housing needs.

In addition, we need to see real housing solutions. ACORN has called for full rent control, including vacancy control, as it encourages landlords to evict long-term tenants and raise rents. The government should introduce a rent freeze, including the above guideline rent increases – a common tactic to raise rents. Stop digital evictions and finally establish a rent reduction program for tenants at risk of eviction. The pandemic is not over yet.

Elections are coming. Will the government listen now?

ACORN Members Norma-Jean Quibell, Co-Chair of the West Nepean Branch in Ottawa; Liz Scott, Chair of the Stoney Creek Chapter in Hamilton; Sheila Farr, a member of Toronto’s Etobicoke Branch. ACORN Canada is an independent national organization of low and middle income families with more than 140,000 members in more than 20 neighborhood chapters in nine cities. Ontario ACORN has branches in Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Peel and Toronto. For more information, visit www.acorncanada.org.

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