Housing crisis

Toronto is experiencing a housing crisis. Activists are trying empathy to mitigate it.

If there’s one place that needs a solution to its housing crisis, it’s Canada’s largest metropolis.

Average prices remain out of reach for Toronto residents, despite recent declines in home prices due to interest rate hikes by the Bank of Canada. Single-family homes are valued at over $1 million in the GTA. Canada faces one of the largest mismatches between housing costs and income in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Why we wrote this

In Toronto, where the lack of affordable housing is reaching critical levels, activists are trying to reframe housing development in terms of community and empathy, rather than competition for resources.

But local landlords still balk at development projects to build more affordable housing. This is where groups like More Neighbors Toronto are trying to make a difference.

“We assist [community consultation meetings] and talk about how it’s a building that we could imagine ourselves or our friends living in, people who really struggle to find accommodation in the city, explains Eric Lombardi, founder of the group. “It’s about making housing more personal, not just a large structure that will change the beauty or character of a neighborhood.”

They are part of a larger movement of housing advocates and experts trying to change the way people, especially homeowners, think about intergenerational housing equity. And they focus on generating empathy and understanding across one of the biggest fault lines in North American cities today.

When the community consultation meeting for a development in a north Toronto neighborhood that includes 1,500 new apartments – half of which are affordable housing – began, it quickly became controversial. Angry neighbors complained that the project would lead to congested traffic, overcrowded schools and even an increase in crime.

But Eric Lombardi, a housing advocate, presented a different response to city planners.

He said at the virtual meeting last October that the project, called Tyndale Green, is exactly the kind of option his generation needs in the midst of Toronto’s housing crisis – an option that, in some ways, is the worst in the world.

Why we wrote this

In Toronto, where the lack of affordable housing is reaching critical levels, activists are trying to reframe housing development in terms of community and empathy, rather than competition for resources.

Members of the group Lombardi founded, More Neighbors Toronto, have tried the tactic at community meetings across the city in an effort to overcome local resistance and convince homeowners that change in their community does not mean loss. for them, but can be a gain for everyone.

“What was happening before us was [city and developers] would show up and get yelled at for an hour and a half. We attend and talk about how it’s a building that we could imagine ourselves or our friends living in, people who are really struggling to find accommodation in the city,” says Lombardi. “It’s about making housing more personal, not just a large structure that will change the beauty or character of a neighborhood.”

They are just one group in a larger movement of housing advocates and experts trying to change the way people, especially homeowners, think about intergenerational housing equity. And they’re focused on generating more empathy and understanding across one of the biggest fault lines in North American cities today.

The worst bubble risk in the world

If there’s one place that needs a solution, it’s Canada’s largest metropolis.

While interest rate hikes by the Bank of Canada have led to lower home prices in Toronto – as well as other Canadian cities – over the past few months that are expected to continue, average prices remain off the charts. scope. Single-family homes are valued at over $1 million in the Greater Toronto Area, according to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board.

It’s a volatile situation. Earlier this month, the UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index of 25 major cities ranked Toronto as the global city with the highest real estate bubble risk in 2022, real house price levels in Toronto (and in Vancouver) having more than tripled over the past 25 years. .

It’s a problem that extends well beyond the country’s major cities. Canada faces one of the largest mismatches between housing costs and income in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. And it is a gap that widens over generations. Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland called the housing affordability crisis an “intergenerational injustice” this spring.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor

A sign hangs from a fence at Tyndale University, where a new development, comprising 1,500 apartments, has been proposed, in Toronto in October 2022. Many neighbors in the surrounding community have expressed concerns about traffic and environmental impacts.

Government officials in Canada increasingly believe that housing affordability has reached a crisis point, much like in the United States. The mismatch between housing supply and strong population growth and historically low interest rates during the pandemic have amplified demand. The government, provinces and municipalities have sought to address the problem with a myriad of programs to boost supply, provide first-time buyer tax credits and fix zoning laws. In Toronto, housing was at the heart of the October 24 municipal elections.

But for many people battling the crisis, changing mindsets is just as important as politics. And many see this as going beyond fighting the NIMBY sentiment.

Housing inflation, says Paul Kershaw, a professor of politics at the University of British Columbia, provided many homeowners – including himself – with wealth, and much of that wealth was protected, keeping the younger generations, even high-income ones, overpriced. He says notions of who is “rich” and who is “poor” – and who are the victims of ageism – require introspection in what he calls a new “intergenerational tension”.

“Because [the housing inflation that is] harming young people has benefited older family members whom they love and who love them,” he says.

The company blames foreign buyers, money launderers, NIMBYs, petty developers and Airbnb for housing problems, he says. “But the intergenerational tension actually invites us to look in the mirror and say, how could we be involved? And that’s a harder message to get across to anyone.

The charity think tank Generation Squeeze, which was founded by Dr Kershaw and focuses on intergenerational inequality, has proposed an annual surtax on homes worth more than $1 million, the proceeds of which would go to affordable housing projects.

“Change is scary”

Big cities have always been expensive. But housing prices in Toronto have had a ripple effect in surrounding cities and even rural communities. Federal government migration data released in January showed that 64,000 people left the Greater Toronto Area for smaller communities in Ontario from 2020 to 2021. Some of this migration is related to the pandemic, but it began before the rise of remote work and was run by young families. A Scotiabank report showed the highest emigration from Ontario in 2021 in four decades.

This has implications for those moving, but also for those staying, says Mike Collins-Williams, CEO of the West End Home Builders’ Association. If residents have to move, it changes the nature of cities, undermining the idea that so-called stable neighborhoods, primarily those where the wealthiest homeowners reside, are in fact stable, he argues. It robs working-class neighborhoods of services and vitality. “Toronto, the city that’s supposed to be the heart of entertainment, with the bars, the clubs, the music, the place where [younger] people are meant to be, they leave.

Mike Moffatt, an economist and senior director of the Smart Prosperity Institute in Ottawa, Ont., says one way to change perspectives is to focus on the fact that the status quo isn’t working for many people either. many older people. Many want to downsize, but in their neighborhood.

“I think one area it’s time to look at is actually how to create more age-friendly housing,” he says. “I think we have to try to get out of the zero-sum frame and try to show how housing reform is good for existing homeowners. I think that’s the only way out. »

Ontario has said it will need 1.5 million new homes over the next decade. This includes a current shortage and an anticipated shortage, with immigration on track to hit a record 431,000 new residents in 2022. It’s the “missing middle”, between single-family homes and high-rise condominiums, which many say is the future.

Colleen Bailey would buy a house in the “missing middle” if she could. But even though she says she has significant savings for her age, home ownership as she approaches 40 is still out of reach. As a member of More Neighbors Toronto, she attended development meetings to voice her support for the new housing. “It’s about trying to get people to have a little more empathy than it’s a fight,” she says.

“Change is scary. So people think if you’re comfortable, if you already own a house, then it seems like the safest thing to do is, you know, let’s keep it as it is,’ Ms Bailey says. “But I think we’re getting to the point where people realize that not changing isn’t a choice without consequences either.”