Canada’s federal election looms and a new rental housing tool should, its creators hope, make it easier for some voters to decide how they can make a difference at the polls.
The Canadian Rental Housing Index has broken down how much of their overall income Canadians are spending on rent across all 338 federal ridings, and those findings, along with an interactive map, are scheduled to be released Tuesday.
Of the top 20 ridings with the highest proportion of renters spending 50 per cent or more of their income on housing, 11 are in Ontario, the index shows. Six are in British Columbia and the remaining three are in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec.
“Ontario now has the dubious honour of being hit harder than anywhere else in the country,” Marlene Coffey, chief executive officer of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, said in a release. The findings, said Coffey, “clearly demonstrate” that Canada’s political leaders have failed to find the solutions needed to fix a worsening crisis.
The Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association was part of a coalition of national housing providers who contributed to the report, including the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (co-founders of the index), the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association.
The data was sourced from Statistics Canada and pulled from the results of the 2016 long-form census. The 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index also used the 2016 census information, but this new report was mapped out with the federal election in mind, the release said.
Coffey said the goal was to create a tool that both government and voters could use to understand what reality renters are facing in each of the country’s federal electoral ridings.
“Affordability is not a big-city problem anymore,” Coffey told the Star. It is important that voters are informed when it comes to housing pressures facing Canadian renters, she said. “All of us would know somebody who needs some help.”
Among the Ontario ridings where renters pay what the report defines as a state of crisis: Willowdale, where close to four out of 10 households are paying 50 per cent or more of their total income on rent; Thornhill where slightly more than three out of 10 residents also pay half or more of their income on housing. That same financial pressure applies to approximately three out of 10 renters in Richmond Hill, Markham-Unionville, University-Rosedale, King-Vaughan, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, and Mississauga Centre.
“Ultimately people have to make decisions on where they can live and afford to live,” Coffey said. “When a household is under that kind of financial pressure, there are of course choices.” Among the big and common choices, Coffey said, is between food and rent.
The authors of the report have also identified single mothers as being among the groups feeling the most housing pressure, along with Indigenous households, young people and seniors.
At least half of single mothers across the country are putting 30 per cent of their total income toward housing. Of that group, 22 per cent are reported to be at a “crisis level of spending” or putting half or more than half of their total income toward housing costs.
Included in that group is Krystal Joseph, who dreams of becoming a social worker. For now, most of her energy is spent raising two small children and juggling three jobs so she can cover the rent on their two-bedroom Toronto apartment.
“Day to day it’s crazy,” said Joseph, 27, whose $1,680 rent absorbs at least half of her income. “Sometimes I barely even have money to go to work for these odd jobs.” Securing this home, she told the Star, in Toronto’s overheated market was akin to a “battle.”
Joseph migrated to Toronto from the Caribbean island of Antigua in 2017, while pregnant with her second child. Shortly after her arrival she found out the housing she had been counting on had fallen through. She ended up at Nellie’s for 14 months, an emergency shelter that advocates for women and children and assists with education and finding housing.
“They are basically my family,” said Joseph. “It was a bit overwhelming, not having your own space. Especially with kids you just need that peace of mind.” Nellie’s has been operating at well past capacity in the face of growing need. In July, the province announced the shelter would receive a capital investment of $12 million toward the purchase of a new shelter.
For Joseph, paying the bills means weekend hours at St. Michael’s Homes, an agency that helps men with addictions heal and find housing, then weekday work as a dispatcher for school bus drivers from 6 a.m. to noon followed by temporary reception work until 3 p.m.
It was that history of housing instability that means the first thing she always pays is her rent, she said. Helping men like the ones at St. Michael’s find housing is why she wants to go to school, to better support people with complicated needs and few places to go.
Housing affordability is expected to be a key election issue as more and more Canadians struggle to find affordable rental housing and home ownership becomes increasingly unattainable for middle-income earners.
Canada’s National Housing Strategy launched under current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal leader’s early election promises include a first-time home buyers incentive, with the government covering up to 10 per cent of the price to be paid back once it’s sold.
The New Democratic Party has promised to build “500,000 new units of affordable housing starting right away, and dealing with the speculation and money laundering that fuel skyrocketing housing prices,” according to information posted on the party’s website.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pledged, during a recent meeting with the Star’s editorial board, that their yet-to-be-released platform would include “concrete measures” designed to making life more affordable, particularly for young families. Those measures have not been released.
Joseph, when asked what the federal government could do to improve things, said there needs to be better transitional housing options so people can move up a scale and toward ownership. Canada sells itself as a nation ready to welcome people in need, said Joseph, but based on her own experience and what she sees working with vulnerable people, more needs to be done.
“They say we welcome all people? Where are you going house them? What is the plan?”
Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar
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