Where does Toronto stand in terms of housing and poverty?

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub: York University
October 10, 2014
Categories: Ask the Hub

This week, 27 Canadian community foundations released their Vital Signs for 2013/2014. These reports gather statistics on how various communities are faring in key quality-of-life areas, such as housing, economic health, wellness, education and more.

The report on our largest city, Toronto, is particularly noteworthy. While there are plenty of statistics to celebrate, like the city’s low rate of police-reported crime and vibrant arts and culture scene; several very serious issues were also highlighted. Unsurprising to many of our regular readers, two of these issues were affordable housing and income disparity.

Toronto is Canada’s second most unaffordable housing market

Key housing trends from the Vital Signs report
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Toronto received its worst affordable housing rating ever, and was the only market in Canada “that saw deterioration (albeit mild) in affordability at the end of 2013 in all housing markets.”

One reason is that the city simply hasn’t built much new affordable housing. There were only 260 rental units opened in 2013—a 77% decrease from 2012 (and 66% from 2011)—and only 7 units built for affordable ownership were made available in 2013, 98% less than in 2012.

The city will be getting more affordable housing after the Pan Am Games—787 market value housing units and 253 affordable rental units—but Toronto’s commitment to building 1,000 new units every year between 2010 and 2020 is clearly not being met.

Home ownership

For most people living in Toronto, home ownership is becoming more difficult to achieve. A standard two-story home required a qualifying household income of more than $139,400! And while overall incomes have increased in the GTA by 18% (in 2012), housing costs have grown by 80%.

  • According to the report: “The average price of a standard (1,500 square-foot) 2-storey house in the Region was $691,300 at the end of 2013, meaning that 65.3% of a household’s average income would be spent on housing.”
  • As such, homebuyers are being “priced out” of the desirable “location-efficient” areas of Toronto. 70% of GTA residents live where they do because they can afford it, not because it’s where they truly want to live.


  • Population growth means there’s more demand for housing. Vacancy in Toronto remained at 1.7%, and rates under 3% have been linked with rental price increases.
  • Renting is particularly hard for young full-time workers between 15 and 24. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto requires more than 40% of the average wages earned. (Affordable housing is considered to be less than 30%.)
  • 77,109 families were waiting for affordable housing at the end of 2013, 4,413 more than in 2012.

More people are frequenting shelters

“An average of 3,017 single people and 948 members of families occupied shelter beds in Toronto every night in 2013 (an increase from 2,952 and 925 respectively, in 2012 and 2,879 and 856 respectively, in 2011).”

In terms of solutions, the report discussed the positive results of the At Home/Chez Soi project; and highlighted the importance of moving away from dependence on emergency services and toward the Housing First approach

Read the housing section of the report

Toronto has the second-largest income gap in Canada

Key trends on the gap between the rich and poor in Toronto
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Of course, no discussion about affordable housing and homelessness is complete without addressing poverty, which continues to be an epidemic in Toronto (and across Canada, as Tanya wrote back in August).

Family poverty is on the rise, and housing quality is poor

The authors of the report note that: “After a six-year decline between 2004 and 2010, Toronto’s child poverty rates were on the rise in 2012. Almost 1 in 3 children (17 and under) were living in poverty in 2012. In 14 Toronto communities, the rate was over 40%.”

They also reference Emily Paradis’ research on Toronto’s aging high-rise buildings, which found that many families live in unaffordable, overcrowded and unsafe apartment high-rises in the inner suburbs, and are at risk of homelessness and other housing issues. According to her study, 9 out of 10 families in rental high-rise buildings live in apartments that are unaffordable, unsafe, overcrowded, insecure, or in bad condition.

New research from the Alliance for a Poverty-Free Toronto, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change, Ontario Campaign 2000, and Social Planning Toronto confirms that poverty in Toronto is racialized. Residents of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Latin American background are more likely to live in poverty.

Food bank use is on the rise

The report highlights research from The Daily Bread Food Bank, which found: “For the 6th year in a row GTA food banks have seen over one million visits, with an increase of nearly 40 per cent in Toronto’s inner suburbs since 2008.” Here are some more statistics about our city’s food bank visitors: 

  • 49% have a disability (in the core, this number is closer to 60%)
  • 49% were born outside of Canada
  • 45% are single-person households
  • 31% are children
  • On average, they spend 71% of their income on rent and utilities
  • 59% gave up a meal to pay for something else in the last 3 months

Furthermore, people are using food banks longer: 1.5 years in 2014 , as compared to 10 months in 2012.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s 1% richest residents have more than ever

Statistics Canada used voluntary data to capture information about Toronto’s richest citizens (rather than in quintiles from the census) so the data’s quality is not comprehensive. Nevertheless, it is reported that “the average incomes of Toronto’s richest 1% have risen by over 80% since the 1980s—faster than the Canadian rate.”

In Toronto, the 1% holds 18.1% of the total declared income. (In Calgary, the city with the largest gap, the top 1% shares 26%!)

You might be wondering how such a gap could be created. The authors of the report state: “Increasingly regressive taxation policy at all levels of government has been a significant cause of growing income disparity since the early 1990s when the federal tax-benefit system offset about 70% of inequalities in the market place. That offset is now less than 40%.”

Looking ahead

As the authors of Vital Signs noted on page 89, we have seen some progress in Ontario in reducing some rates of poverty: the number of families living under the low-income cutoff decreased by 10.5% in the first three years (2008-2011) of the government’s first Poverty Reduction Plan. And in 2013, the government invested in a number of education, social assistance and nutrition initiatives. We have yet to see any concrete evidence that these changes have been effective.

The Ontario government recently announced its new poverty reduction plan, Realizing Our Potential, which showed commitment to ending poverty and described a promising, comprehensive approach; but as Raising the Roof pointed out, the strategy lacks any solid timelines or targets, and is missing some crucial information.

When it comes to Toronto, the city clearly has a long way to go when it comes to affordable housing and poverty. Fortunately, Toronto City Council plans to develop its own poverty reduction strategy in the 2015 budget. We’ll share information as soon as it’s available, along with our latest report on the state of homelessness in Canada.

Read the full report on income inequality. (Page 102 has a list of community agencies working to reduce poverty.) 

Emma Woolley is a 2016 graduate of York University's Bachelor of Social Work program with a background in publishing, freelance writing and digital communications. Her interest in affordable housing, homelessness, 2LGBTQ rights, and social justice led her to work with The Homeless Hub. Emma is now pursuing her Master of Social Work at The University of Toronto, where she is focusing on anti-oppressive, strengths-based, recovery-oriented, and critical approaches to mental health care.

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