Protecting Affordable Rental Housing – Rights Review

The City of Toronto’s stock of affordable housing consists of public, private, co-operative and non-profit models that stem from various eras of federal and provincial investments and policy innovation. The most significant and recent period of intervention unfolded throughout the 1970s and 1980s, winding down in the 1990s.

While new housing construction has continued over the last couple of decades, almost all of the new stock of rental housing is not affordable for a large segment of Toronto’s population, particularly its lower income households. In fact, 37% of households in Toronto spent more than 30% of their before-tax income on shelter, which means they have been living in unaffordable housing. 87% of households who are living in private rental housing and earning $30,000 or less are paying unaffordable rents.

Meanwhile, the remaining stock of public and private affordable housing is aging and is occasionally in a state of disrepair. Households living in these types of units have struggled to find alternative, affordable options or an effective recourse to improve their current living conditions. At the same time, many of these buildings face the risk of being renovated or demolished and redeveloped into units that are considerably more expensive, in turn risking the displacement of lower income tenants.

Threats to tenure security, poor living conditions, and lack of affordable housing options are all examples of shortcomings in progressively realizing the right to housing. These conditions have, in part, been created by a public policy environment that has favoured market mechanisms to solve social problems. For example, loosening of rent regulations have incentivized landlords to hike rents. In addition, higher orders of government have retreated from past financial commitments towards funding community housing, even as the federal government has started to once again intervene.

While there is clearly a need to increase the supply of quality, affordable housing options to address our current housing crisis, more immediate benefits can be achieved through introducing measures to protect existing affordable housing. Building off the Rights Review on Safety and Maintenance, this report delves into the management of community housing stock and existing incentive structures that make market housing less affordable.

Here, all levels of government have a role to play. The federal government can leverage its fiscal powers to support local efforts to protect housing. Significantly, provincial powers over municipalities means their use of effective legislation, regulation and funding can potentially build municipal capacity to deliver more effectively on affordable housing.

However, the City of Toronto’s range of initiatives to protect affordable housing is the focus of analysis in this report. As the City has taken on the bulk of responsibilities around community housing management and has various tools available to mitigate the loss of affordable market housing, a review of its initiatives sheds light on the extent to which its measures are working. A rights-based lens is applied to recommend ways in which the City can build upon its current work and strengthen ways to protect affordable housing.