The numbers behind the housing crisis in Ontario

August 19, 2020

In July 2020 the Ontario government passed Bill 184, which makes several amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act.

At CERA, we are deeply concerned about the negative impacts that this Bill will have on tenants, in particular for marginalized Ontarians who will be disproportionately impacted – individuals who are low income, racialized, newcomers to Canada, youth, and persons with disabilities.

Bill 184 comes at a time when Ontario renters are experiencing a decades-long, province-wide housing affordability crisis, and in the context of an unprecedented economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

Renters in Ontario have experienced an affordability crisis for years

Over the past decade, average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment has skyrocketed and in Toronto now sits at $2,300 per month, while half of Ontario renters earn less than $40,000 per year.

The current policy environment, which includes vacancy decontrol and the removal of rent control from units constructed after November 2018, combined with decreased funding for social housing initiatives, have contributed to record low vacancy and turnover rates and the driving up of average rent costs up by as much 50% over 10 years.

The discrepancy between current market rental rates with those of just five years ago provides landlords with strong incentive to illegally evict longer-standing tenants to increase profits. This troubling trend is evidenced by the fact that Landlord’s Own Use eviction claims (N12 applications) at the Landlord and Tenant Board have nearly doubled since 2015.

Once pushed out of their homes into an astronomically high rental market, low-income renters have little choice but to work extra jobs, move away from their communities, and limit spending on necessities. Many of the most vulnerable risk joining the 12,000+ homeless individuals currently living in Ontario.

The impacts of the housing crisis are disproportionately borne by marginalized and racialized communities including Black and Indigenous communities

Low-income renters across Canada are at the highest risk of eviction into homelessness, and they are disproportionately more likely to be racialized, young people, single parent households and immigrants.

Research by the Colour of Poverty shows that over 50% of racialized people in Canada live in homes which are unaffordable, inadequate and overcrowded, as compared to 28% of non-racialized households. Additionally, 52% of racialized people in Canada with the lowest incomes reside in Ontario, and 69% of low-income neighborhoods in Toronto are racialized communities. The research also found that 87% of Indigenous individuals in Toronto qualified as low-income.

COVID-19 has significantly escalated income instability and housing precarity for renters in Ontario and they need help

Ontario renters were already struggling in a hostile and unaffordable housing market before COVID-19 arrived. Between mid-March to June 2020, an estimated 4.9 million Canadians lost their jobs or had their employment hours drastically reduced. Those hit hardest are low-income earners, with half of those earning less than $16 an hour losing all or most of their income due to COVID-19.

Preliminary data shows that young people aged 18-24 are facing a 43% unemployment rate, with women being the first to be laid off and last to be re-hired. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that 16% of unemployed workers are not eligible for CERB, nor are workers whose hours were reduced but whose monthly earnings remained above $1,000.

The fallout from Bill 184 could propel a mass homelessness crisis in Ontario

Bill 184 came forward in the context of an unprecedented economic crisis caused by COVID-19, where an estimated 50,000 arrears applications awaited processing when the eviction moratorium was lifted in August 2020.

The mass homelessness that could result from these evictions could be the largest human rights crisis that this province has ever faced and Bill 184 is only going to make it easier for that to happen.

Moreover, all of these impacts will disproportionately accrue to our most vulnerable and marginalized residents – people who face multiple barriers in particular those who are low income, racialized, newcomers to Canada, people who don’t speak English, youth, and people with disabilities. These are all groups who tend to have less information about their rights and the ability to assert them.

While the rest of the world is finally waking up to the systemic racism faced by black, indigenous and other racialized groups, we are deeply concerned that this bill will render significant numbers of racialized people homeless.

At CERA, although our recommendations to the Ontario government to reconsider provisions in Bill 184 were not taken into account, we will continue to advocate for a rights-based approach to housing, and for strengthened protections for tenants in Ontario, at a time when they are needed more than ever.

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