With two adults and four children crammed into her two-bedroom apartment, Rosanna Araujo recently got rid of her dining table because it took up too much space.
She now eats most of her meals standing on the kitchen counter.
“It’s not big enough,” said Araujo, who works for a nonprofit organization and lives in Weston, a neighborhood in northwest Toronto.
“We flirted with the idea [of moving] often, but we can’t afford to go anywhere. “We can’t afford to rent in Toronto,” she said, speaking at a public forum in Weston hosted by The current on Monday.
Araujo and her husband have good jobs, but feel they are stretched thin financially. She estimates that a place large enough to meet her family’s needs would cost $4,000 a month, a 64 percent increase over the current rent.
Until recently, Weston was considered one of Toronto’s most affordable neighborhoods, avoiding the dangers of gentrification that have driven residents out of so many other neighborhoods in the city. But over the past five years, as housing prices and living expenses have skyrocketed across the country, Weston has not been spared.
More residents like Araujo are facing the impossible choice brought on by skyrocketing rents: empty their bank accounts to pay ever-higher rents or leave the community they love?
Even if they could move to a larger place, Araujo says he would prefer to stay in Weston, a neighborhood he loves for its diversity and sense of community, as well as its easy access to trails along the nearby Humber River. There is a mix of single-family homes and high-rise apartment towers located around a busy shopping street and a popular weekend farmers market.
Sharlene Henry, a longtime Weston resident, said she has seen rents in the area rise by as much as $1,000 in the past five years. She said the increase is due in part to the 2015 opening of the UP Express, a rail link connecting Pearson International Airport and downtown Toronto, which has a stop in Weston.
Henry said these changes amount to gentrification, which has left his community wondering if they still have a place here.
“It seems like they want all people of color out of this community so they can charge high, [exorbitant] prices,” he said.
“Housing is simply unaffordable”
Weston is not the only community facing these challenges. As Canada faces a deepening housing crisis, problems related to rising costs and gentrification are spreading across the country, from community-led efforts to protect historic black communities in Nova Scotia, Quick change in a small British Columbia town.to the attempts of preserve Vancouver’s struggling Chinatown.
TO report this month showed that rental costs across Canada rose 9.6 per cent last year, to an average of $2,117 a month. On the other hand, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. estimates that Canada needs build an additional 3.5 million new units by the end of the decadein addition to what is already in process, to ensure sufficient housing supply to close the country’s affordability gap.
Bryan Douthwright is an advocacy manager at the Weston King Neighborhood Center, which helps people struggling with access to housing, health care and basic needs like food.
Douthwright said the number of people needing help has skyrocketed in recent years and now includes not only low-income residents, but also some who earn moderate incomes.
Part of his role is to help people find housing, but he said that’s “honestly impossible right now.”
“Housing is simply unaffordable. People will spend 100 percent of their income on rent,” he said.
Henry has lived in Weston for 20 years. With three children at home, she works full-time as an auto worker and her partner works two jobs to make ends meet. She is also president of the tenants association of her building, 33 King St., which is currently involved in a rent strike.
(Dream Unlimited, the owner of 33 King St., declined an interview with The currentbut said in a statement that it had made accommodations for tenants facing financial difficulties and had created affordable units in one of the buildings involved in the rent strike).
Henry wants to see more affordable housing built and limits on year-on-year rent increases reintroduced. In 2018, Ontario Premier Doug Ford rolled back rent controls for buildings built after November of that yearin an effort to stimulate the construction of new purpose-built rental units.
“My biggest fear is that my kids will pack up and leave, and not because of that wonderful job or career, but just because of affordability,” Henry said.
“There is no reason why someone should have to leave their family, friends, school, job and go somewhere where they don’t know anyone just to find affordable housing.”
What should governments do?
Earlier this month, the federal government announced that Cut the federal goods and services tax (GST) from the construction of new rental apartments.in an effort to stimulate new developments.
Also pledged $74 million to build thousands of homes in London and Ontario. – the first of what he hopes will be a series of agreements with municipalities to accelerate housing construction.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre criticized the government’s plan for not going far enough. He is Proposed measures tying federal funding to housing construction.. Funding would be withheld from cities that failed to increase the number of homes built by 15 percent, while those that exceeded that threshold would receive bonuses.
Jeff Brenner is a partner at Castlepoint NUMA, a Toronto developer hoping to build in Weston. He said developers understand that a “good, functional city” requires housing for residents of all income levels, but banks expect a certain profit margin before financing a development, and affordable units sell for between $150,000 and $200,000. less, which reduces that margin.
“To provide more affordable housing… it will really take all three levels [of government] come together there to help unlock that,” he said.
Jan Underwood, executive director of Habitat for Humanity GTA, agrees that all levels of government could help reduce obstacles around “land, time and money.” For example, they could make more land available for housing construction, while still requiring a certain percentage to be set aside for affordable housing, she said.
A friendly hand
Just a stone’s throw from the Humber River in Weston, a new condo is nearing completion, built by a nonprofit developer that helps homebuyers with a sizable portion of the down payment.
“We take what would conventionally be the profit on a project and loan it to our buyers to bolster their down payment,” said Heather Tremain, CEO of Options for Homes.
Martha Gonya recently moved into the new Weston building. She’s a single mother on a teacher’s salary, and she thinks it’s telling that someone with her job needs this kind of help.
“I thought this is my last chance to have something in Toronto,” he said, adding that otherwise the $400,000 mortgage would have been “completely out of reach.”
Tremain said 56 percent of Options for Homes homebuyers identify as BIPOC.
“They’re probably more in line with the community that’s out there. And they’re definitely shopping at the local shops and restaurants and bringing life to the streets,” he said.
That said, Tremain is aware that when Options for Homes builds in an underserved area, it can attract other for-profit developers, creating a risk of gentrification. He said addressing that risk involves sound planning, as well as careful management of the relationships between new developments and existing neighborhoods.
“Cities are dynamic and change,” he said.
“[But] “We need people to contribute to the city, to work in the city, to also be able to live in the city.”