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A 37-year wait for a subsidized one-bedroom, 3,808 applicants for 200 lower-cost rentals. The hunt for affordable housing in Toronto today

As rents have soared in Toronto — with the average two-bedroom on rentals.ca hitting $3,353 in October — city-dwellers may be left wondering what it takes to find an affordable home.

The answer for tenants today involves wading through a tangle of waiting lists, random lotteries, independent application systems and, in some cases, banking on sheer luck.

Want subsidized housing? For a one-bedroom, waits today can be up to 37 years. Moderately affordable rentals? At one building, a lottery recently plucked around 200 winners from 3,808 hopefuls. Need extra support services? In the last fiscal year, that protracted wait-list grew by another 3,094 names, while just 341 people were housed off it. Co-ops with cheaper rents have, in many cases, shut down wait-lists, and renting single rooms is still illegal in much of the city.

Despite official efforts to boost available supply — with the city offering its own incentives and programs and leveraging higher government funds — the odds for housing hopefuls are slim.

Deeply affordable housing

In Toronto, low-income residents can apply for what’s called rent-geared-to-income housing, which adjusts rent to what they can afford — usually no more than 30 per cent of their income.

It’s a life raft for many struggling individuals and families, but with a wait-list totalling more than 81,000 households as of September, people can wait decades for help.

City hall expects the wait for a one-bedroom to be at least 12 years, though a scan of subsidized housing listings shows some buildings expect to offer units that come up in 2022 to applicants from 1985.

“We encourage applicants to consider Rent-Geared-to-Income housing as a long-term housing plan, not an immediate solution to housing needs or emergency situations,” the city warns online. There are a few priority tracks that can speed things along, for groups such as youth, survivors of domestic violence, those facing homelessness or with less than two years to live.

So far this year, more than 15,000 applications have been received or reactivated. In that same time, 2,292 people were housed, most at Toronto Community Housing Corp. sites. For larger families, the prospects are especially grim, with just 12 four-bedroom homes given out this year.

Moderately affordable housing

If you’re looking for more moderately affordable rentals, the city has agreements with buildings to provide a certain amount of housing that’s guaranteed to fall at or below average market rent.

Right now, no new affordable rental buildings are taking applications.

But when they are, only a small number of applicants make it through. At 32 Freeland St., 1,202 households put their names forward for 100 spots. At 99 Lakeshore Ave., there were 3,808 bids for roughly 200 homes.

Earlier this year, council directed staff to develop a “centralized system” for selecting tenants, which includes determining any priority rules. By its second year, city staff say 75 per cent of affordable rentals will be allocated from a wait-list, and 25 per cent through a random draw.

Ana Bailão, the former councillor, has previously told the Star she expects a “big waiting list” to form for affordable rentals under the new system — as city staff confirmed some households may wind up on the affordable rental and subsidized housing wait-lists at the same time.

Supportive housing

For those struggling with specific challenges such as mental illness or addiction, there are affordable housing options that integrate supports like health care services. Supportive housing is seen by city officials as a key form of housing to help people escape chronic homelessness.

But this, too, comes with a wait-list — and one that is growing faster than people can be housed. Last spring, there were nearly 21,000 people in the Toronto queue; by this September, that hit 24,085. In the last fiscal year, 3,094 people were referred onto the list while 341 were housed.

City staff said this spring that the number of new supportive housing units would have to double monthly in order to cut down chronic homelessness, and appealed for more money from other governments. Since then, the pressure on Toronto’s shelter system has only increased.

Non-profit housing

Toronto offers a variety of non-profit housing models, from long-established co-operative organizations to newer models like land trusts that aim to protect existing affordable stock.

But those who work and live in the co-op sector say many buildings have simply shut their wait-lists down due to outsized interest, the Star reported earlier this year.

This month, the Co-Operative Housing Federation of Toronto’s listing page showed zero vacancies, and just two sites with open wait-lists — one in Toronto, the other in Newmarket.

While some co-ops allocate units based on their own process, certain units are also available through the rent-geared-to-income wait-list. From January to October, 511 people from that wait-list were housed in co-ops and private non-profits, or given a portable rent subsidy.

Private market housing

Fancy yourself lucky? You can scour private market properties and hope for landlords simply willing to rent for less than the market commands.

Often, the most deeply affordable option in the private market is renting a single room, where bathrooms and kitchens are shared with other tenants. City staff estimate that spaces in rooming houses often range between $400 and $700 a month — but they are only legal in the former cities of Toronto, Etobicoke and York, and barred in other parts of the city like Scarborough.

As rooming houses operate in the prohibited areas nonetheless, city staff have been vouching for citywide legalization and licensing — but the staff proposal has hit repeated blocks at city hall, with the mayor and councillors voting to defer a final vote twice in the last term.


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