The hunt for affordable housing in Toronto

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

The answer for today’s renters is to wade through a tangle of waiting lists, random lotteries, independent application systems and, in some cases, betting on luck.

Want subsidized housing? For a one-bedroom apartment, the wait today can be up to 37 years. Averagely affordable rentals? In one building, a lottery recently selected about 200 winners from 3,808 hopefuls. Need additional support services? During the last fiscal year, this long waiting list increased by 3,094 additional names, while only 341 people were accommodated there. Co-ops with cheaper rents have, in many cases, closed waiting lists, and renting single rooms is still illegal in much of the city.

Despite official efforts to increase available supply – with the city offering its own incentives and programs and raising higher public funds – the odds for housing hopefuls are slim.

Very affordable housing

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

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

City Hall expects the wait for a one-bedroom apartment to be at least 12 years, although an analysis of subsidized housing listings shows some buildings plan to offer units that will turn up in 2022 to candidates 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 emergencies, » the city warns online. There are a few priority avenues that can speed things up, for groups such as young people, survivors of domestic violence, those who are homeless or who have less than two years to live.

So far this year, over 15,000 applications have been received or reactivated. During the same period, 2,292 people were housed, most at Toronto Community Housing Corp sites. For larger families, the outlook is particularly bleak, with just 12 four-bedroom homes distributed this year.

Moderately affordable housing

If you’re looking for more moderately affordable rentals, the city has agreements with apartment buildings to provide a number of units that are guaranteed to fall at or below average market rent.

Currently, no new affordable rental properties are receiving applications.

But when they are, only a small number of candidates succeed. At 32 Freeland St., 1,202 households submitted their names for 100 spots. At 99 Lakeshore Ave., there were 3,808 offers for about 200 homes.

Earlier this year, the council asked staff to develop a “centralized system” for selecting tenants, which includes determining priority rules. By its second year, city staff say 75% of affordable rentals will be allocated from a waiting list and 25% by lottery.

Ana Bailão, the former councilor, previously told the Star that she expects a “large waiting list” to form for affordable rentals under the new system – as city staff confirmed that some households may find themselves on the waiting lists for affordable rentals and subsidized housing at the same time.

Supportive housing

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

But that too comes with a waiting list – and a list that is growing faster than people can be accommodated. Last spring, there were nearly 21,000 people in the Toronto queue; in September, this reached 24,085. In the last fiscal year, 3,094 people were listed while 341 were accommodated.

City staff said this spring that the number of new supportive housing units should double each month to reduce 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 cooperative 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 apartment buildings have simply closed their waiting lists due to excessive interest, the Star reported earlier this year.

This month, the Co-Operative Housing Federation of Toronto’s registration page showed no vacancies and only two sites with open waiting lists – one in Toronto, the other in Newmarket.

While some co-ops allocate units based on their own process, some units are also available on the rent-geared-to-income waiting list. From January to October, 511 people on this waiting list were housed in cooperatives and private non-profit organizations, or received a transferable rent allowance.

Private market housing

Do you imagine yourself lucky? You can browse private market properties and expect landlords who are just willing to rent for less than market orders.

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

As rooming houses nonetheless operate in off-limits areas, city staff vouched for citywide legalization and licensing – but the staff proposal met with repeated blockages. at city hall, the mayor and councilors voting to postpone a final vote twice in the last term.


Conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not share these opinions.


Back to top button