On the evening of September 23rd, United Way Greater Toronto hosted a pop-up exhibit in Toronto’s Liberty Village called “OpenHouse”. The event targeted the deepening rental affordability crisis highlighting the harsh reality increasingly more people face due to stagnant wages and soaring rental costs.
Visitors had a unique opportunity to tour a 150-square-foot parking space transformed into a one-bedroom apartment replica. As they explored the “Kitchen,” “Living Room,” and “Bedroom” areas, guests learned more about the rental affordability, discovered concrete policy change solutions, and gained insights into United Way Greater Toronto’s active efforts to drive change on this critical issue.
No single level of government can resolve this crisis in isolation. It’s the responsibility of all our elected officials to work together and take action to expand and safeguard affordable housing for all. Take a step towards change by sending a letter to your elected representatives, urging them to fulfill their part in addressing this crucial issue.
Home. It’s a place of retreat, to rest and recharge. It’s a springboard to engage in employment, education, social connection, and neighbourhood services. It’s foundational to our health, wellbeing and stability.
Yet across Ontario, many people are struggling to find and hold onto homes that they can afford and that meet their needs. One third of Ontarians are renters, and almost one in four are paying rents they can’t afford.
Decades of disinvestment in affordable housing have caught up with us.
Today, rentals and deeply affordable non-market rental housing account for a small percentage of housing built. In fact, from 1990 to 2021, out of nearly 2 million housing starts in Ontario, only 8% were rentals and 0.4% were non-market housing. Meanwhile, the rental housing that has been built is out of reach for renters on low incomes. While 2022 saw the strongest growth in primary rental apartment units available in the GTA in recent decades, the average rent for new supply entering the market was 45.4% higher than the average rent for all units.
We’re losing affordable housing faster than we’re building it.
Between 2016 and 2021, the GTA lost more than 130,000 rental units available at under $1,500 per month. Put another way, in five years we lost 27% of all the private rental apartments affordable to the over 640,000 GTA households earning less than $60,000 a year.
In the GTA, a significant portion of affordable rental housing exists in legacy towers (private rental buildings built before 1985) – which UWGT’s Vertical Legacy report showed are home to over 200,000 low-to-moderate income households across Peel, Toronto and York Region.
Ontario’s current rent control regime, which allows property owners to increase rent by any amount once an existing unit becomes vacant, is placing the affordability of these ageing units at risk. In 2022, rent increases for units that turned over in the GTA were considerably higher than those that did not turn over. For example, an average 2-bedroom rent for turned over units was 29% higher than the average 1.2% increase in rents for rent controlled units.
Incomes are lagging far behind rising rents.
Ultimately, unaffordability arises from the gap between income levels and the cost of living — and too many people are earning well below what is needed to afford even their most basic necessities. With inflation at its highest rate in the past four decades and the average rent for a one-bedroom currently at $2,532 per month, renters everywhere are feeling these pressures – but the strain is greatest on the over 1.4 million Ontario households living in low income. A 2021 survey showed that 2 in 3 food bank visitors in Ontario have less than $100 left after paying their housing costs each month.
When people can’t afford their housing, everyone pays the costs.
With less room in their budgets to absorb rising costs, households on low incomes are at acute risk of homelessness – and the poor physical and mental health outcomes associated with housing unaffordability and instability. Alongside the impacts on individuals’ and families’ wellbeing and potential, these ripple effects increase pressure on other government-funded programs and services. The way forward is clear: it’s about putting people first, respecting the human right to housing, and investing in housing and social policy solutions that work for everyone.
Putting the pieces together
To support the well-being of all people living in the GTA, United Way
provides the following recommendations to all levels of government to create safe, affordable and accessible housing:
Preserve the existing affordable rental housing stock that is at risk of loss due to renovations, conversions or demolitions through municipal rental housing replacement policies.
Invest in programs that help keep homes well-maintained and livable while maintaining their affordability.
Enable community-based non-profit organizations to acquire and preserve existing affordable rental stock.
Promote housing stability and prevent evictions into homelessness by regulating rents on vacant units.
Invest in affordable and deeply affordable purpose-built rental housing options, including development and acquisition of supportive housing, non-profit housing and co-operative housing
Meaningfully address the affordability crisis and lift people out of poverty by increasing minimum wage, Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) rates to livable levels.
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