Toronto housing affordability is a mayoral election issue. What do experts say about the city’s future?

Can the next mayor solve Toronto's affordable housing problem?

A for-sale sign sits on the front lawn of a corner home near Steeles Avenue.
A for-sale sign sits on the front lawn of a corner home near Steeles Avenue. Housing affordability is a prominent issue currently in Toronto. (Marva Trim/Toronto Observer) 

As Toronto prepares for its highly anticipated 2023 By-Election for Mayor, one issue is taking centre stage in many candidates’ campaign speeches: housing affordability. 

A recent Ipsos survey conducted by the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) found that the key issues facing Torontonians are cost of living at 59 per cent, and affordability of housing at 44 per cent. 

The same survey similarly found that 88 per cent are concerned about the ability of the next generation to buy a home in Toronto.

What are the top candidates’ housing campaign goals?

The byelection has opened up the ballot to 102 candidates. The six frontrunners listed below have established their goals to address the housing affordability issue.

Olivia Chow plans to create the Secure Affordable Homes Fund, secure 25,000 affordable homes on city-owned land, and establish the Toronto Renters Action Committee. The RAC is a task force dedicated to establishing anti-renoviction bylaws, advocating for real rent control, and reviewing existing policies and programs related to renters, and holding the city accountable to renters. Funding comes from increasing the existing city Building Fund by 0.33 per cent to build these homes.

Mitzie Hunter created a plan called “FIX THE SIX” where she outlines the six priorities for a better Toronto. Number one on her list is looking at creating better affordable housing and renter protection. The centrepiece of the plan is a new Toronto Affordable Housing Corporation (TAHC) charged with building thousands of purpose-built, below-market rate rental apartments and affordable ownership units on unlocked city-owned land. To protect renters, Hunter will increase eviction prevention services by expanding the Eviction Prevention in the Community Programs (EPIC) which supports vulnerable rental households.

Josh Matlow plans to establish a Comprehensive Housing Plan, Public Build Toronto: a city agency that will develop housing on city-owned lands. Public Build Toronto will be funded with $300 million in seed funding from the city, and by waiving all municipal fees including property taxes and development charges, and a tenant-support program to support the future of housing.

Ana Bailão plans to take action to urgently build 285,000 homes by 2031 with a $48.5 million housing plan, 2 per cent of which would be purpose-built rentals. Funding will come from the City Building Fund which is forecast to generate an additional $60 million this year. She hopes to create pathways out of homelessness in the creation of new modular supportive homes for those struggling, and protect residents and renters who have homes today by strengthening the full range of eviction prevention programs.

Brad Bradford plans to make life more affordable for Toronto residents. His course of action includes: Increasing housing supply by building housing on city-owned land and dedicating one-third of that housing as affordable, streamlining approvals, converting empty offices into homes and making it easier for entrepreneurs to live and work in Toronto by vowing to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation.

Mark Saunders outlines in his campaign that he will take action to speed up the City Hall approvals process and build capacity in the construction sector. 

*Visit each prospective candidate’s website for an in-depth description of all their campaign promises

What factors affect housing affordability?

Ene Underwood, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity GTA, said housing affordability is affected by “so many different things,” but narrowed it down to four main factors. 

“First is supply, we don’t have enough houses,” she said. “The second is, it takes too long for us to approve homes that do get built.

“The third is zoning: we have been too biased for too long of keeping our neighbourhoods exactly how they were 40 years ago. The fourth thing is just the whole mix of fees on a new home.”

Habitat for Humanity GTA is a local nonprofit housing organization with a global vision of a world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live.

Underwood said that, compared to when she first started 10 years ago, she has seen a dramatic change in the people who were and weren’t able to afford homes.

“Housing affordability and affordable housing was something viewed as affecting just a fragment of people needing support,” she said. “Today, housing is now something that is affecting pretty much anyone under the age of 40, and anyone who’s a newcomer to Canada of any age.”

A 2022 survey conducted by Habitat for Humanity Canada said that 78 per cent of Canadians are “worried about having to spend less on food, savings, transportation costs, and/or debt payments to continue to afford their current housing.” Almost all Canadians (96 per cent) said they faced an increased cost of living.

“We’re seeing that housing is one of the top three topics getting discussed, so that is always a good thing. I’m disappointed that we’re not getting as much quality information on how [the] [candidates] are going to fix housing as I would have hoped,” she said.

‘A lot of different approaches’

A Global News article by Sean Boynton noted that Ontario housing affordability has eroded at a rate not seen in half a century over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also disrupted a lot of the progression of housing production, like construction and supply costs.

One expert said the candidates will need to match their campaign talk with action.

“All candidates seem to be promising a lot of different approaches,” David Amborski, director of the Centre for Urban Development at Toronto Metropolitan University, said in a phone interview with The Observer.

“Implementing what their promises are will be another challenge or issue,” he said, “because it requires them to allocate money in a budget, and the budget already has a deficit because of COVID.”

Amborksi’s focus is on land development at TMU and he said he is trying to research and promote advocacy for housing affordability in Toronto.

What are advocacy groups doing to support housing?

Advocacy groups work to solve the housing affordability issue Toronto is suffering from.

The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) is a specialty community legal clinic with a provincial mandate to advance and protect the interests of low-income tenants. They specialize in housing issues related to tenants in Ontario.

Dania Majid, ACTO staff lawyer, works on precedent-setting litigation, policy work and law reform. She is also the director of the tenant duty council program. Majid also does media work, training and outreach with the clinics.

Majid sees that, in the position she’s in, she can note what’s happening on the ground and translate that into recommendations to improve the status of renters. 

“It’s good to see that these conversations are happening in the course of the election, that the candidates do recognize that housing, in particular rental housing, is extremely important to the residents of Toronto,” she said.

The future for young buyers in Toronto

Toronto’s real estate market can be a significant hurdle for the upcoming generation of home buyers and renters.

A Globe and Mail article by Rob Carrick said that without six-figure incomes or well-off parents, anyone in their 20s and 30s has to question whether they have a future in Toronto.

“It’s unjust, to [the younger] generation,” Underwood said. “You’re going to school getting a great degree, we could really use you in the GTA, but you may decide you can’t stay here, [like] many other people.”

A 2023 report from Dejardins Insurance found that “in 2021 and 2022, Canadians aged 15 to 34 left Ontario in record numbers. Ontarian families are also increasingly settling farther away from larger cities like Toronto and housing affordability is a big driver.”

“It’s very difficult for the average young person to afford something in this market, currently,” said Amborski.

“Toronto and Ontario are going to be losing many of their talents to other places, other jurisdictions because people are looking for affordable housing. So it does have both micro and macro impact on people’s lives in our society as a whole,” Majid said.

When asked what Toronto’s next mayor should be doing to keep young people in the city, Amborski said the winning candidate “should try to ensure that there are affordable housing options.”

Underwood recommended the new mayor “expedite upzoning at all transit hubs, and require that 20 per cent of new housing built is affordable to median household incomes for adults under age 40.”

The byelection for Toronto’s next mayor happens June 26.

About this article

Posted: Jun 21 2023 1:00 pm
Filed under: News