Toronto, Canada – Tenants roam in a food bank on the second floor of Parkdale’s Concrete Residential Store 103 West Lodge Avenue in pairs. Isaac Capella Guerrero, a construction worker earning $ 100,000 a year, is among them.
The 41-year-old father of two says he is leaving this western Toronto neighborhood; his two-bedroom apartment is too small for his family and he says he is tired of waiting weeks for repairs.
The area he’s moving to is less walkable than Parkdale’s, and his children will have to change schools. But a recent trip to the bank in search of a mortgage made him feel frustrated about the gloomy options.
“This country is going to become a country where you can not have a family at some point,” Capella Guerrero told Al Jazeera. ‘You’ll have to live with your friends, where you can each put up $ 1000 so you can rent an apartment. This is what it’s going to be. Because at the moment, with one income, as in my case, how f *** [can] do you get a house? “
The outrage has spread on the streets of Canadian cities in recent months as the coronavirus pandemic exposes the seriousness of exposure to experts that experts say is a deepening housing crisis.
On the one hand, runaway prices show no signs of declining, placing the prospect of home ownership further out of the reach of the middle class or burdening it with debt. On the other hand, a level of poverty and marginalization was exposed as tent cities sprang up in urban parks and municipalities sent in police to remove people, in some cases violently. Unsustainable conditions have also renewed a sense of collective resistance around housing in Canada, as people organize to try to stem evictions and defend camps.
According to affordable housing across the country, the worst decline was in 27 years during the second quarter of 2021 analysis of the National Bank of Canada. Mortgage payments now represent 45 percent of the average household income, according to the report, and in places like Toronto and Vancouver, the percentage is even higher.
Against this background, a recent poll places housing at the top of the priority list for voters in the Greater Toronto area, the most populous metropolitan area in Canada with six million people. As the federal election campaign reaches its final point, the issue of housing is the central point for political parties for the first time in years.
The parties promised a range of measures and incentives ahead of the September 20 vote, from rent-to-own programs, to tax incentives and restrictions on foreign buyers.
Lack of housing supply is a major factor in the current crisis – one that experts said requires urgent state action. In response, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party pledged to “build, preserve or repair” 1.4 million homes over the next four years; the left-wing New Democrats said they will build at least 500,000 affordable housing units within 10 years, while the Conservatives said they will build a million houses within three years.
Housing system changes
But Leilani Farha, the former UN special rapporteur on the right to housing, said there was too much emphasis on home ownership, while more attention should be paid to the low-income layers of Canadian society, which are growing and more becomes up to the margins.
‘COVID really brought it home because COVID exposed how important the home is – and how difficult it is to maintain a home. “Within a month of the pandemic – one month – 25 percent of tenants said they would not pay their rent on a prepaid basis – or in a few months,” says Farha.
“And it is in Canada, the tenth largest economy in the world.”
Canada previously had a variety of accessible housing options. Rent was cheap enough to save for a nest egg that allowed Canadians to buy a home, build shares and borrow against it to spend money. The housing system run by homeowners is to grow the economy and not necessarily put a roof over their heads, says Farha, now global director of The Shift, an organization that advocates for housing as a human right, not a commodity.
But the system no longer works the same way, and a confluence of factors has dramatically changed the dynamics, Farha says. She pointed to pension funds or private equity firms building up affordable housing, doing cosmetic repairs and then raising rents, a trend that is driving people out. That’s why promises to build more housing contain clear regulations that ensure housing is affordable and stays, she says.
“I do not think one party has succeeded. I think they do not understand the size of the problem, the seriousness of the problem or the urgency of the problem. And that worries me, ”Farha told Al Jazeera. ‘I would think because housing is a human right, there would have been an overall attack to address homelessness in the first place as quickly as possible.
Back at West Lodge, units stand empty in the few dilapidated apartment towers. The building was purchased in 2018 by Hazelview Properties, a real estate investment trust, which says it has worked to address years of neglect left behind by previous owners.
Back at West Lodge, the units stand empty in the apartment towers as construction continues on a revival project, led by Hazelview Properties, which bought the buildings at the end of 2018.
But amid the renovations, tenants report that they wait weeks for repairs to their apartments, while vacant units that are being refurbished are offered at a higher price.
“Empty units mean people are leaving, they are being evicted, they are scared away,” says Paterson Hodgson, an illustrator who lives at West Lodge and a member of Parkdale Organize, which helps people organize to fight for social issues.
Colleen Krempulec, vice president of brand marketing and corporate social responsibility at Hazelview, said the company had spent nearly $ 20 million repairing the West Lodge buildings, which had been “neglected for years, if not decades.”
Hazelview installed new boilers, including renovations, plumbing, a mailroom and refurbished laundry, she said. ‘These are massive revitalization projects that we believe West Lodge residents will benefit from; it is by no means an attempt to oust people, ”Krempulec said.
She acknowledged that there were ‘many’ vacant units in the buildings, even though the company had been actively renting them out for about a year. This is done at market rent, which is likely to be more than what an existing tenant pays on rent control. “No application has been made for a above-mentioned rent increase for this work,” she stressed.
But Hodgson said tenants still feel pressured to leave. The organization, which started repairing and renting arrears, also revealed how many people are struggling with food. This is what led to the food bank run by the tenant, who works out of a unit in the building every other Sunday and regularly attracts about 50 people.
“It was really bad. There were people who preferred to pay rent rather than buy food. And not just because of COVID. “It has happened before,” Hodgson said.
Ashleigh Doherty, a Parkdale resident and a local teacher, said the collective organization generated during the pandemic was about striving for better conditions and demanding change, not waiting for top-down solutions from politicians not.
“From our perspective, we know that the only strength we have is through this type of organization,” Doherty told Al Jazeera outside West Lodge. “And that’s going to involve us confronting the owners directly, and not sitting and expecting politicians to do something for us – we know that’s not going to happen.”