Toronto’s Public Housing Shortage

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The Toronto Star published an article this past Sunday (August 8) which had some eye-popping opening paragraphs, worth quoting in full:

And 1995 is roughly the year that Torontonians would have had to apply for subsidized housing for a chance to secure any one-bedroom units that became vacant in 2021 at 133 Broadway Avenue, a 52-unit Toronto Community Housing lowrise year Yonge and Eglinton. Nearly 14,000 households qualified for the four one-bedroom units that opened up in the last year.

Willing to move into a smaller unit? That helps a little. For bachelor apartments, applicants who might receive offers this year on Broadway applied for housing a decade later, around 1995. In this queue, there are around 6,400 households.

And the Broadway building isn’t an anomaly. While the city warns of at least 12-year waits for one-bedroom units across its entire subsidized housing portfolio, wait-time data detailed in a city housing portal shows that in the case of many buildings—from smaller housing developments to sprawling highrises—the actual waits housing applicants are experiencing are several decades long.

That’s the clickbait at the start of the article, but, as the author Victoria Gibson makes clear, the situation isn’t too much better at other subsidized housing buildings operated by Toronto, with wait times of a decade or more apparently being the minimum for the majority of low income renters on the wait list. Needless to say, this is disastrous.

Responsibility for this situation falls on the shoulders of (mostly) the federal and provincial governments, which, over time, lost enthusiasm for spending the huge amounts of money needed to ensure supply kept up with demand. Put simply, governments never, ever have enough money to do everything that they need to do or are expected to do, a dilemma all governments throughout history have faced and have never solved.

Nevertheless, subsidized housing—more correctly know as rent-geared-to-income (RGI)—should and must remain the responsibility of government since it is a community good that should be something voters have (indirect) control over (and since the private sector will never provide more than a handful of token “attainable” housing units, and only when forced to do so by approval authorities). With land prices and construction costs high and rising steadily, it seems unlikely the current mismatch between supply and demand will change in any meaningful way, despite the cautious optimism of some of the observers quoted in the article. After all, as new governments are elected they bring with them different priorities and ideologies, so progress only comes in small steps and fitfully.